Mourn the dead, protect the living

After the shooting death of her son in violent Grays Ferry, a mother hopes to keep loved ones from becoming victims

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Members of the South Philadelphia High junior varsity basketball team stand during a moment of silence in memory of teammate Tyree Parks, killed in a drive-by shooting last week. (Charles Fox / Staff photographer)

SHE'S NOW LOST two sons to the violent streets around her Grays Ferry home, one eight years ago and the other just last week.

But, yesterday, Lorraine Carter was thinking about her survivors - her remaining son, 19, and her 9-year-old grandson - and how she could keep them safe.

"After the funeral's over, he's out of here," she said, gesturing to Chris, a college student.

Keeping her grandson out of harm's way will be a bigger challenge, she said, but she can do it. She'll get him counseling to deal with losing his father and his uncle. She'll push herself to keep working as a crossing guard near the boy's school, even though the intersection she patrols is a stone's throw from where her youngest son died.

"I'm going to take it one day at a time," she said yesterday. "I'll stay out there this week. I'll stay out next week."

Such is the reality of this matriarch's life in this pocket of South Philadelphia, where acts of violence are part of the fabric of the neighborhood.

"Historically, that's the way it's always been," said Lt. Joe Dougherty, of South Detectives. "It's the same old story. Some of the guys down there are very territorial . . . they can have a problem if you're from 27th Street, or 30th Street, or 31st, or the projects."

In some cases, territorial grudges are passed down through generations. But investigators often can't fully determine why residents of neighboring streets appear to be at war.

"We can speculate on this and that," Dougherty said, "but most of the time, God only knows what prompts them to actually start shooting at each other. We don't get that much cooperation."

Carter's son, Tyree Parks, was a standout athlete at South Philadelphia High School. By all accounts, the 18-year-old was a good kid with a quick smile and a positive attitude.

Friday morning, Parks learned that he'd been accepted to Bloomsburg University in north central Pennsylvania. Friday night, he was dead.

Parks, 18, was walking with his 9-year-old nephew and two other young teens when he was shot in the head during a drive-by shooting on 32nd Street near Dickinson. Parks, who coached a youth basketball team, had been taking his young players home after a game.

Bullets pierced the clothing of the two other teens but neither was struck. The 9-year-old witnessed his uncle's murder but was not physically harmed. Police have made no arrests and are seeking the public's help.

"I could have lost two instead of one," Carter said.

At a South Philadelphia High basketball game yesterday, both teams stopped for a moment of silence. Carter was wearing her son's white and black football jersey, sitting in the spot he normally did when he attended games.

Carter's eldest son, Dwayne, was killed in 2002 only blocks from where Parks was shot. Dwayne, who was 18 when he was gunned down during a dispute at 33rd and Reed streets, left behind an infant son, who grew up thinking of his Uncle Tyree as his father.

In April 2008 in the neighborhood, aspiring police officers and best friends Dominique Smith, 17, and Harvey Lewis, 15, were killed on 29th Street near Morris.

Photos from Parks' MySpace page - where he gives his nickname as "Warzone Boy" - suggest that no one is completely immune to the street culture. In one collage, a photo of Parks appears along with a photograph of the 30th and Wharton Street signs, and images of a silver handgun and a gold bullet. In another image, Parks is holding up three fingers on one hand and making an "O" shape with the fingers of the other, as in "30." The caption beneath reads,"we rep r block hard."

Police said that Parks was found with a gun, and friends said that he'd been carrying it after being spooked by a fight earlier in the day. Even so, his mother said, "That wasn't who he was at all."

The son she and others knew and miss appears in other MySpace photos: playing football or basketball, in class or with an arm around his nephew. One photo of the boy has the caption, "It run in da family with da looks."

Parks' nephew, a fourth-grader, wrote a poem for his uncle's funeral, and a family friend read parts aloud yesterday to those gathered at Carter's house. Carter drew laughs as she pointed out some of the boy's misspellings, "spots" for "sports," "grate" for "great."

Carter laughed, too, wiping tears and thinking of her son.

"It was a pleasure to have him for 18 years," she said.