Timothy A. Michael Jr. was nobody's angel.
His family knew that.
Relatives worried about him. A 2017 graduate of El Centro de Estudiantes High School, he struggled with depression following the murder of a close friend last October. Michael refused counseling. His parents thought that if they could get him away from Philadelphia, away from the bad influences they felt were leading "TJ," as they call him, down the wrong path, he would be so much better off.
So they decided Michael, who lived with his dad in Germantown, would go and stay for a while with his mother in Dubai, of all places. His mother, Kimberly R. Wilson, who was born and raised in Philly, had been living there since 2016, completing a degree in health-care administration. She moved with her fiance, Lafayette Charleston, an Air Force veteran who works as a contractor.
Together, they've made a pretty nice life over there. The couple, who met 30 years ago and were longtime friends, live in a modern-looking townhouse between Dubai and Abu Dhabi in an upscale community called Al Ghadeer. Wilson, a licensed practical nurse, used to call Philly and regale Michael with stories about how safe it is in the United Arab Emirates, and how people there don't lock their doors at night. Americans, she would tell him, can do really well there. Her fiance agreed that Michael should join them.
"I wanted to show him a different way to live. I wanted to show him that crime and guns were not the norm, like it is in Philly," Charleston wrote me in a note. "You can live in peace and not have to worry about walking the streets here, regardless of race, gender, or neighborhood affiliation. And this is the Middle East?"
In May, Wilson purchased a $1,100 round-trip ticket for her son, and made plans to travel home to escort him son abroad. Her plan was for him to be there for her wedding, scheduled for Dec. 1. Michael had just gotten his passport and was really excited about the trip. His whole family was psyched.
"I wanted him out of Philly," Timothy Allan Michael Sr., TJ's father, told me. "I didn't like some of the stuff he told me."
Sadly, he never made it. Michael was killed on July 5, a day before his flight was scheduled to take off. Authorities discovered his body lying in the street between two parked cars in the 300 block of West Seymour Street in Germantown, a few blocks from where his father lives. He'd been shot multiple times in his back and extremities. A friend said Michael had been picked up around C Street and Wyoming by an Uber or Lyft driver around midnight, shortly before he was killed.
His mother, who had been in Delaware visiting her sister for the Independence Day holiday, said Michael had told her: "Mom, I'm going to be with you in Dubai for six months. I just want to be with my friends for one last time." So she'd let him go. Who wouldn't have? She had no idea that would be the last time she'd speak with her son.
Hours later, Wilson had been preparing to do the motherly thing: going to Michael's father's house to make sure he had packed all of his belongings. That's when she learned her son was gone. She didn't want to believe it. She called his phone, hoping he'd pick up. A few minutes later, her phone rang. It was the police calling.
So, instead of taking her son and daughter back with her to Dubai on July 6, Wilson had to plan Michael's funeral. I don't know how she got through it; it's all so tragic.
I learned about what happened from one of Wilson's friends. Before then, his death had just been one of a number of killings around the July Fourth holiday. Most of us didn't know his back story. Now that we do, it's just so heartbreaking. His family has set up a GoFundMe page to raise reward money for anyone who helps lead police to his killers.
"TJ was so excited about leaving for Dubai the next day and everyone knew it," Wilson wrote in an email. "Not sure why anyone would kill him. Could have been jealous, who knows? A lot of people knew he was leaving.
"He may have been a robbed because he was found with nothing on his person except the clothes he was wearing," she wrote. "We are not sure who he was meeting up with. Most of his close friends were from North Philly and Lawncrest. But it had to be someone he trusted. No one from Germantown has come forward with any information. Someone knows something. This 'no snitch' mentality is horrible. And has to stop."
Wilson flew back to Dubai on July 20.
""Leaving TJ there was the second hardest thing I've ever had to do, next to burying him," she wrote. "I have an emptiness inside that I can't explain. My heart feels like it's broken in two."
She has her fiance to console her, but Michael was her only son. How do you get over something like that? He was supposed to be the best man at their long-awaited wedding. It would have been the culmination of a dream. Wilson should be giddy — not thinking about postponing or not going through with her nuptials.