- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2008

BALTIMORE (AP) — A young Liberian emigrant, who carried scars of the violent civil war in his home country and came to America for a better life, was killed at an off-campus Valentine’s Day party near Morgan State University.

“That is the most painful part,” Wilma Kromah said of her 22-year-old son, Jeff Payne, who died of his wounds early Friday. “My kid survived the war and came to America for a better life, and then he ended up being taken by a gun.”

Mrs. Kromah told the Baltimore Sun she left Liberia in 1986, leaving behind her two sons, including Jeff, who was about 1½ years old.

“I wanted a better life,” she said.

Three years later, fighting broke out in the West African nation.

Young Jeff initially stayed with his father, who Mrs. Kromah said worked for the Ministry of Planning. But as a government worker, her husband was targeted by the rebels and was forced to flee in the middle of the night to the Ivory Coast. Jeff and his brothers were left behind with a grandmother, who lived in the suburbs of Monrovia, the capital.

“He was young at the time,” Mrs. Kromah remembered. “He talked about the dead bodies he had to walk though. He had to go hunting in the forest for food.”

She said her son and his grandmother were always on the run. “They were going from one village to another,” she said. “When the rebels got there, they’d have to leave again.”

“They were running from to place to place,” she continued. “His father was trying so hard to find him. I thought he was not alive. I thought he had been taken by rebels.”

At some point during those years on the run, Jeff was shot during a raid. His half brothers, Michael Gillies, 19, and Wilmot Daye, 25, remembered him showing them the scar.

Mrs. Kromah finally found her sons in 1995. “They found him up in a forest,” she said.

When the war ended, an 11-year-old Jeff and Mr. Daye came to the United States. The two boys found the adjustment difficult.

“We both got here with no educational background,” Mr. Daye said. “We didn’t go to school there. I think the hardest thing for him was leaving home and coming to a new place.”

His family says they did not approve of some of Mr. Payne’s recent friends. His mother said she had hoped to persuade him to move down to Virginia Beach, where she lived.

Mrs. Kromah said Mr. Payne and a couple of his friends on Thursday attended a Valentine’s Day party at an off-campus apartment building associated with Morgan State University, though he was not a student there. They got into an argument with another group, someone drew a gun, and Mr. Payne was shot.

“Was it meant for him? Was it a direct shot for him? I do not know. These are the questions that I want to know,” she said.

University spokesman Clinton R. Coleman said police have not charged anyone in the case.

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