It's been more than two years since Dominique Curtis-Washington's brother, Davon Ockimey, was murdered outside of a Baltimore corner store—but she recently signed her 12-year-old son up for counseling to deal with the loss.
"He still doesn't understand why," she says. "He still questions me, 'Ma, Uncle Davon ain't gon' be able to see me play? Uncle Davon ain't gonna be able to do this. He would be proud of me wouldn't he? He would like that, wouldn't he?'"
Ockimey, 26, was gunned down in July 2013 in front of a Park Heights corner store where he was purchasing snacks. Antonio Braxton, 20 at the time of the shooting, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and the use of a handgun during the commission of a violent crime this past September. He was sentenced to life in prison with all but 30 years suspended.
Curtis-Washington and her cousin Deidrea "Dee" McFadden say they are still struggling with his death—and what it means for their family.
"I spend a lot of time with his daughters, because I feel like he can't," Curtis-Washington says. "So when I don't—if I don't see them for a month or two—I feel bad because I know that he can't do it. But even being around them is a struggle."
Her brother has three children. One, a girl, looks just like him, she says. "When she comes around it's hard. I don't want to push her away because that's my niece and I love her, but it's just hard to be around her sometimes. Because I look at her and all I see is my brother."
She carries so much about her brother's death with her every day—including what she saw when she had to identify his body at Sinai Hospital. "To walk into the room and see him lying there in a bag. I will never get that image out of my head. Never."
"Even now, my family can tell you that I am very distant," she says. "Like, I come around and then I won't come around for a while because it's a hard adjustment. Even when I come around my family to see them sometimes I do be jealous. Like, she's still got her brother, she could take pictures, they could laugh, they could talk, I don't have that. And it hurts."
The women say they never really got the whole story about what led to the shooting and they replay events. They think it might have been the result of an argument over a dice game. "He went over there to get some goodies," McFadden says. "He liked all his junk after he smoked his weed. He liked to get sweets and stuff. All his associates was outside of the store."
She says her cousin was shot as he left the store. He tried to run but tripped and collapsed in a nearby yard that just happened to belong to a family friend. "They didn't hold him over, they didn't sit him up. He was choking on his slobber," McFadden says. "Broad daylight, 5 o'clock in the evening, everybody was outside. He [Braxton] just went hard in front of everybody."
Braxton was arrested in August 2013.
McFadden say they were lucky because so many witnesses were actually willing to speak with police about what they saw. There was also a surveillance tape of the incident and records of Braxton admitting to the crime on phone calls he made from prison, the State's Attorney's Office told them. "That's one thing that you don't get in Baltimore is closure, so that's something that I'm real grateful for," she says.
The women also say they had detectives who were committed to finding out who killed Ockimey. "We had some awesome detectives, like family. They said 'I promise you we are going to bring him to justice' and they did just that," McFadden says.
The process was stalled many times. Mostly, they say, due to several attorney changes on Braxton's part. "It took two years to bring him to justice. When we recently went to court this year the judge said no more postponements," McFadden says.
"At the end of the day I really feel sorry for him [Braxton] because I know that he made a mistake that he didn't know it was going to be this big," McFadden says. "I can honestly say that he wasn't the mastermind behind it. He was just probably trying to get initiated in a gang or get some respect and that's why he was bragging about it. But I know he didn't do it by himself."
The women say that when Ockimey was shot, the whole family became victims as well. When they first arrived at the Sinai, it was a struggle to even find out if he was dead or alive, they recalled. They were only told that they had to wait for homicide detectives, but those detectives were still on the scene. In the end, McFadden and Curtis-Washington went to the crime scene to find out what happened for themselves.
"A detective walked over to us and said, 'Well unfortunately he didn't make it,'" McFadden says. "They just said it like it was nothing. We're like, this must be a joke because I'm thinking he's in the hospital fighting for his life, now you tell me he dead. So we had to call our other family members at the hospital and tell them that he already passed."
Then, they had to figure out how to get the funds needed to bury him. At first they thought he had a life insurance policy with his wife, who he was separated from, but that turned out not to be the case. "We were everywhere," Curtis-Washington says. "I was this place trying to get some money, that place trying to get some money."
They even did a fundraiser. "We sold waters, we sold snacks, we sold snowballs, we begged and pleaded our family and friends for money just to get him into the ground," Curtis-Washington says. "And then once that was over we still had a balance at the funeral home that had to be paid off."
In the end, the shooting was a tragedy in a family already burdened with so much.
"That was her last sibling left," McFadden says, referring to Curtis-Washington. "Their mother is gone, father locked up for 20 years. [Davon] didn't have a whole deck of cards to start off with. He had some issues. He was in and out of jail. But right before he died, but he was trying to himself together. Trying to work again and staying away from people that wasn't good for him."
Curtis-Washington says she remembers her brother as someone who loved to laugh, and was always right—at least in his own mind. "He would make you laugh off of anything. We could just be sitting right here and he would do something and you would be laughing at him. And we would laugh about it for years on end. Just his voice alone would make you laugh."