The young Kareem Browne was always taking things apart, examining them, poking at them, looking to see how they worked.
Maybe that’s why years later he decided he would study biomedical engineering. His family isn’t sure. They just know the 20-year-old wanted to work with prosthetics someday, after he finished up at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College and transferred to Virginia Commonwealth University. If all went as planned, he’d walk across the stage in 2013.
But all didn’t go as planned.
Browne was driving two friends down East Broad Street on Feb. 12 when a gun went off, shooting him in the torso. The vehicle crashed into two utility poles. Daytron L. Brown, 22, whom Browne had known since they were little boys, has been indicted for involuntary manslaughter.
Browne’s mother, Patricia Tisdale, says she’s heard conflicting stories about what happened that early morning but she’s not interesting in revisiting it. “I do feel angry,” she says, “but I’m going to put it in God’s hands.”
Instead, she recalls her son the way he was before he went out that night. How he helped care for his grandfather, John Wilson, while the older man suffered from dementia. How he would clown around in school, making jokes and distracting other students once he finished his assignments. How he’d listen to people’s problems and never tell a soul.
“You could tell him something and that would stay with him,” Tisdale says. “You could really confide in him about anything.”
Browne had a lot of people who would confide in him. His sisters, his cousins. Especially Mike Wilson, only a year younger. Wilson and Browne talked often through the years about the various businesses they hoped to start. Not just any business, Browne would say, but one that would help people. “I have days when I want to give up, but I picture his face,” Wilson says: “‘Come on, Mike. You can’t give up. You’ve got too much work to do.’”
These days, Wilson reminisces on his Facebook page about Browne, including posting items such as a picture of a receipt from his last time out with him: $5.06 for a slice and soda. Just a month after Browne’s death, his other cousin, Michael K. Brown Jr., was shot. Then his cousin’s father, Michael K. Brown Sr., died after suffering diabetes complications. “Kareem, Lil Mike, and Big Mike all had big dreams to make it big in the world, ima help make sure those dreams come true,” Wilson wrote recently.
Browne liked to talk about his dreams with his girlfriend, too. Dating on-and-off since 10th grade, Browne and Nyasha Mangaroo, 21, liked to visit their favorite restaurants such as Red Robin and the Cheesecake Factory. They’d talk about what they’d do after college, where they’d live, what kind of cars they’d drive and how many children they’d have. She wanted to live near Washington or New York City, while he favored Chicago. She wanted one or two children; he thought three would be ideal. “He was always trying to be so serious around me,” says Mangaroo, a student at Virginia Commonwealth University. “I was the goofy one, so I always tried to loosen him up a little to make him laugh.”
At the Willow Lawn Kroger where he worked evenings in the produce department, Browne had little trouble laughing, co-worker Jose Rubio says. “Jose Canseco!” he’d call out to Rubio.
“I don’t know why,” Rubio says, shrugging. “Same first name [maybe]. But always with a smile on his face.”
Rubio, who came to Kroger after he was laid off from AIG, says he admired the younger man as a hard worker. Rubio says Browne was a “striking” guy whom the teenage girls at the store looked up to. “They were just devastated,” he says. “There were several who missed work for several days because, of all people, Kareem was the last guy you’d think this would happen to.”
Browne’s sister, Shaundavia “Shay” Wilson, once worked with him at the store. Seven years older, she sometimes felt like he was more of a son than a brother. He’d tag along with her to basketball practice or to Kings Dominion. She still shops at Kroger, and before she knows it, she says, “I just look for him. Every time I’m in there.”
In some ways, Tisdale says, her son was what she’d call an old soul. His favorite rapper was Nas, but he also liked classic R&B and Bob Marley. He cooked the evening meal for his grandfather when she had to work, and he was good at it. “He used olive oil and stuff like that,” she says. “He wanted to eat healthy.”
After Browne’s death, his grandfather’s health declined. He’s now in a nursing home. “I don’t know if Kareem’s death had something to do with it or not,” his mom says. “But it seemed like he just went down all of a sudden.”
His sister, Shay Wilson, says she’s had problems with Bell’s palsy — a sort of facial paralysis that can be triggered by stress. The nights are particularly hard. “It’s the way he died,” she says. “We’ve never had tragedy like that before.”