TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Regina Thompson-Jenkins shut the door on her teenage son’s room two years ago and she hasn’t been inside since.
Everything inside is exactly the way Tre’Devon Lane, 19, left it before he was shot to death on Sept. 22, 2012. Inside lives the memory of a college student just beginning to realize his potential.
“I feel like I was robbed. And I can’t get that back,” Thompson-Jenkins, a Trenton middle school teacher, told The Times of Trenton (https://bit.ly/1wg6RUr). “Sometimes my mind is overwhelmed because I don’t want to forget anything. I don’t have anything else.”
That door at the top of the stairs isn’t supposed to be closed. Lane isn’t supposed to be dead. And surely his killers aren’t supposed to be walking around free, Thompson-Jenkins said this week.
She is among the dozens of other mothers, fathers and family members in Trenton grieving the slaying of a loved one while wondering if justice will ever be served. In the last two years alone, 31 homicides remain unsolved in the city.
There has not been a homicide in Trenton since July 30 - a relative period of calm following 23 killings to start the year. Of those, 13 murders remain unsolved. In 2013, a year with a record 37 homicides in the city, 18 remain unsolved, according to the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office.
It’s frustrating, Thompson-Jenkins said. It seems like everyone has moved on with their lives, but she can’t. She has no closure.
“I need to know who my son’s killers are,” Thompson-Jenkins said. “I want to be able to sit across from them in court. I want them to see my tears.”
Investigators say they share that frustration.
“I need everyone to know that I care, and everyone who works for me cares about solving these cases,” said Trenton Police Detective Sgt. Christopher Doyle, who heads up the department’s arm of the Mercer County Homicide Task Force.
“We are doing everything we can within the confines of the law to give the families the little bit of peace that they deserve,” he said.
Tre’Devon Lane and three others were on a porch of Lane’s grandmother’s home on New Willow Street around 3 a.m. on a September Saturday in 2012 when the porch was sprayed with bullets. Two men with hoodies partially obscuring their faces emerged from the darkness and opened fire.
Lane, a student at Mercer County Community College with no criminal record, was hit several times, and at least once in the chest. He died at the scene. The three others - two women, aged 24 and 31, and one man, 28 — were wounded.
There was no indication of a dispute before the shooting, and police have not identified a motive for the killing. No arrests have been made.
Lane’s murder sparked a citywide movement to stop violence in Trenton. Two days after Lane’s killing, a new police task force was announced, with cooperation from the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office and the county Sheriff’s Office, aimed at cutting down on gun violence.
The following spring, “Safe box,” a new system of anonymous crime tip boxes were installed in churches throughout Trenton in hopes of gathering clues to unsolved homicides.
Doyle said detectives face hurdles that sometimes are more like immovable roadblocks. In some cases, witnesses simply will not talk to police because of a longstanding mistrust, or fear of reprisal from others.
Other times, Doyle said, there simply isn’t enough evidence and precious few leads for police to follow.
Doyle said investigators keep the photos of those who’ve tragically died in their minds and feel the burden of bringing closure to families who desperately need it.
“I feel for them. I really do,” said Doyle, who has been working homicide investigations since 2002. ” But this is not a simple process. It’s not like it is on television. It’s just not like that.”
Cornelius Boakai, a 21-year-old student at Mercer County Community College, was shot to death on Bryn Mawr Avenue on April 11, 2013. He was inside the car his parents had just bought him earlier that year to commute to his classes.
Police at the time said he got into an argument with his killer. The two struggled over a gun, which fired and Boakai was shot in the back. The killer ran.
Boakai, the youngest of six children, collapsed in the front yard of a house a few feet away from his car. He was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
“Somebody somewhere knows something,” said Morris Boakai, father of Cornelius. “Somebody knows.”
Police have found no motive. No one has been arrested.
Boakai’s mother, Selena Boakai, can sometimes still hear her son telling her to close the door of his room if she accidentally leaves it open.
“He hated it when we left the door open,” Selena Boakai said.
Unbeknownst to their families, Boakai and Lane knew each other. They had classes together at MCCC. But it wasn’t until after Boakai’s death that the two families connected.
Now, the two share experiences, drawing strength from each other. It helps with the grieving process, Thompson-Jenkins said.
“When Selena cries, I know exactly what she’s going through,” Thompson-Jenkins said. “I know she heard a song Cornelius used to like or remembered the way he used to dance or some trigger that brought her back to his death. No one else understands that.”
The two have each helped to get the Safe Box program going, have supported each other through the ups and downs of daily life and have tried to keep pressure on investigators to bring their sons’ killers to justice, Thompson-Jenkins said.
They’ve met with others who also share the same pain and attend a monthly group therapy session specifically for families whose children have been lost to gun violence.
While it helps, Boakai and Thompson-Jenkins said, it’s not enough. They want to move on with their lives. But they can’t. Not until their sons have justice.
“You know that old saying that says that time heals all wounds?” Thompson-Jenkins asked. “It doesn’t. It only puts scar tissue over the wound. It never goes away. We feel it every day.”
Anyone with information on any homicide is encouraged to call the Homicide Task Force at (609) 989-6406 or the confidential tip line (609) 989-3663.
Information from: The (Trenton, N.J.) Times, https://www.nj.com/times
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.