Darlene Crutchfield wasn’t expecting any visitors on the night she saw her son for the last time. When someone came to her door asking for him late on a Saturday in October, she begged him not to leave the safety of her home.
But her 34-year-old son, William Crutchfield, said that everything would be all right before he crossed the threshold of the apartment he sometimes shared with her in the 1900 block of Redd Street. He passed through the living room, with its salmon-colored couch topped by a doily and teddy bears — a personal touch to warm the apartment, one of 458 units in the Mosby Court public housing complex.
The door to their apartment shut behind his back and on life.
Police found his body as the night turned to morning, on Sunday, Oct. 4, around 2:20 a.m. It lay inside of a Mosby Court residence and was riddled with multiple gunshot wounds.
Darlene blames her son’s generous nature for leading him away from home that night.
“Just as he was with everyone, if somebody needs him, he gets up and goes,” she says. “But I wish I put my foot down a little more. … Being 34, he always said, stop treating him like a child. But they’re always going to be your babies.”
She says that William was always quick to give extra food, diapers and other items to neighbors who came by in need. She can’t think of what could have provoked the shooting. Police won’t comment on the case, citing it as an ongoing investigation and leaving Darlene with more questions than answers.
“Just knowing that somebody shot my child multiple times — it just eats me up,” she says. “What was the last thing that was on his mind when this was happening around his so-called friends?”
Three weeks ago, police made two arrests in the case. They charged Daquan K. Tucker, 30, of Guilder Lane, and Lakim L. Booker, 20, of Joplin Avenue, with conspiracy to commit murder in William’s death. Tucker also was charged with possession of a firearm as a convicted felon.
William’s family members say that he wasn’t known as a troublemaker in the neighborhood. As a much younger man, he had a run-in with the law and was found guilty of a malicious wounding charge in 1998.
He worked as an auto detailer at Pearson Chrysler Jeep Dodge, where he met his future brother-in-law, Shawn Edwards, who worked at the dealership as a salesman.
“I’ve been in this family for seven years,” Edwards says. “He and I knew each other before I met my wife.”
Edwards says he saw how William focused on family. “In my opinion,” he says, “his children changed his life. He worked hard, he wasn’t the stereotype out there.”
Darlene is waiting for a clear narrative about what happened the night she waited for William to come home, and for closure. “I’m still praying,” she says, “and praying that justice will be served.”
The matriarch of the family, Darlene has lived in public housing for more than 20 years. She left school in the 11th grade and lived in another public housing development in Fulton before coming to Mosby three years ago.
And at 57, Darlene says she’s made it a life goal to make sure that her family is of better means.
“So far, for the grace of God, grandma is the only one here. All of my children have gone off,” she says. “When you see them coming they are coming to help grandma out. This is not somewhere they want to stay put.”
Darlene has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Shortness of breath and other symptoms prevent her from holding full-time employment. She’s also suffered two strokes and takes work where she can. But illness doesn’t stop her from volunteering for her church and the food bank.
“Some of the church members are always looking out for me,” she says. “I don’t turn nothing down.”
Edwards says that his mother-in-law, Darlene, is “stubborn” about staying out of the way, and “doesn’t want to be burden.” But he says that he and his wife, Demetra Crutchfield, eventually will have to move her into their South Side home.
Until then, Demetra strives to improve her mother’s neighborhood. She assists the families of homicide victims through Making Richmond Care, a small organization she runs out of her home. Demetra steps in when a girl doesn’t have a dress to wear to a father’s funeral, or when a child needs new sneakers for school on happier days. She also hopes to sponsor a family for Christmas.
Demetra is tired of the violence that claims lives in public housing. She is tired of the T-shirts worn by those in mourning at every vigil, emblazoned with the names and photos of homicide victims.
“You see numerous people with name T-shirts,” she says. “How many people do we have to put in our closets before we realize enough is enough?”
“We love you Uncle Ducey,” is printed in black, curving letters across red T-shirts, over a picture of a very serious William.
The shirts are worn during a vigil in the days after his murder in October. Dozens of people gather around the basketball hoops with flaking paint and no nets near the center of Mosby Court.
The people who are old enough to know the weight of his death are quiet with tear-streamed faces. The youngest play silently.
Two loudspeakers project the words of family members who speak about William and a gospel song is sung. The remembrance is interrupted by an ice-cream truck that stops in a nearby lot, blaring its bright song. Some look over in annoyance.
In hands are taper candles, bounded by Styrofoam cups to catch melting wax. Smoke rises when family and friends raise the extinguished candles into the air, and they chant, “We’ll miss you Ducey.”
The Oct. 7 vigil is the second time in nearly a month that Mosby Court residents have gathered to mourn victims. Two other men — Jawaun L. Hargrove, 33, and Anthony D. Addison, 21, were victims of a double homicide Sept. 9.
William’s vigil is just as somber, but there’s a noticeable difference. The previous ceremony received heavy media coverage and was attended by city officials including Richmond’s police chief, Alfred Durham, and Delegate Delores McQuinn. A few hundred people came out.
Community activist J.J. Minor, who organized both vigils, says that Mosby residents notice the lack of media presence: “To me, it sends a message that the news media is so used to this happening ... and don’t want to come out here.”
Richmond police Capt. Roger Russell also has concerns. “We don’t ever want anyone to think it’s not newsworthy,” he says.
During both vigils Minor stands with a strong arm around grieving family members as they take to the microphone to grieve. His large frame and hand is at the waist of William’s father, Willie Moran, and seems to prop up the thin elder man as he remembers his son.
“That’s my only baby y’all took from me,” Moran says.
Minor stands next to Dominique, an 18-year-old honors student at Armstrong High School. William was his father.
Dominique tells those gathered that he is left to be the protector of his siblings. His voice is level despite the tears in his eyes.
“The people who took from my family,” he says — “they took much more than possessions, materialistic things.”
In the weeks after his father’s death, Dominique’s responsibilities continue to mount. He balances his grief with the teen angst of college searches, volunteering and chores. He doesn’t live with his siblings, but stays with his mother in the North Side.
“There is just little stuff my father left behind,” he says. “I have to keep up my responsibility. The show must go on.”
Besides helping his family, Dominique volunteers for the North Side location of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond. He runs errands for his grandmother, whom he visits every day after school and sometimes pays a few of her bills.
“All the responsibilities I have to pick up,” he says, “I still have days that I can’t get out of bed. But you have to sooner or later.”
Dominique wants to bring his work with the Boys and Girls Club to Mosby but is told that it won’t help.
“I have the resources to get things done and a lot of time. But I will get told, ‘The kids aren’t really interested, why don’t we go to another location?’” he says. “I’m like no, I want to work here.”
There have been 32 homicides in Richmond so far in 2015. There were 42 last year.
Of the nine homicides that have occurred in public housing this year, six of them have been in Mosby — a stark change from 2014, when there was one homicide on Oct. 26.
Police are zeroing in on the Mosby problem.
Durham says that after the double shootings of Hargrove and Addison, tips flooded in from the community.
“People were saying that they were fed up,” he says. “This one mother said, ‘You know what, I don’t even care what happens, I’m tired of this. If you know something — you need to tell.’”
That’s a shift in the trend of public housing residents staying tight-lipped after violent crime for fear of retribution, Durham says. But the battle is sure to be long and hard.
Mosby residents, who have average annual incomes of $9,711, lack transportation, education and job skills. Data from the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority indicates that the average stay in Mosby is two to five years. In all, 9,678 people live in public housing within the city. Of them, 1,506 residents live in Mosby.
The complex is walking distance from Shockoe Valley and Bottom but the economic gulf is cruel. In the last several years, millions of dollars have been pumped into the revitalization of old industrial spaces in both parts of Shockoe. Developers have spent $60 million to convert the old Richmond Cold Storage warehouses, less than a mile away from Mosby, into apartments.
Of police efforts to address the link between poverty and crime, Durham says, “We are addressing problems we didn’t create.”
He’s also been hampered by reduced funding and manpower, he says.
In 2014, the housing authority disbanded a police force under its jurisdiction that solely served Richmond’s public housing communities. The department, which never exceeded 12 officers, had been located next to Gilpin Court since 2006.
To make up for the loss, the housing authority shelled out more than $420,000 in overtime pay to city police officers who patrolled public housing complexes. But the help ended in January, when a change in federal Housing and Urban Development Department policy prohibited such spending.
Manpower is one of the most significant ways to lower crime rates, Durham says. “If I had enough officers or funding where I could hire officers just to be assigned to a public housing,” he says — “I think that’s half the battle.”
The potential for bloodshed in Mosby was brewing since the summer, Durham says. Gilpin and Mosby courts stood out for a high volume of calls for robberies and aggravated assaults. That data caused the department to focus its resources in both areas.
Durham also stresses community policing — a department strategy for more than 10 years — as an effective approach to get more officers out of their cars and talking to residents. Officers also have reached youth through summer basketball games, cookouts, school supply giveaways and other efforts to put a friendly face on the department.
The police also have the help of nonprofits, residents, faith leaders and activists who say they’re fed up with the bloodshed.
Since 2011, Kinfolks Community, a nonprofit within walking distance of Mosby, has worked to provide such services as mental health care and job training. It’s also worked to beautify the area by dotting it with community gardens.
The housing authority works on such initiatives as providing job readiness, GED classes and money management advice. Scholarship and tutoring are provided to youth.
Faith leaders have urged Mosby residents to work together as residents of a historically black community.
“Police cannot handle this but we as black people can handle it,” the Rev. Sharon Broaddus of St. Paul’s Baptist Church tells those gathered at William’s vigil. “Reach back and teach them right from wrong before it’s too late.”
Virginia Commonwealth University also brings leadership classes and health services to the area though its VCU Aspire and the Mosby Court Resource Center.
But the police chief and the organizations on the ground serve as triage after the often violent results of poverty.
“When you have populations of hopelessness and helplessness you know you are going to have these issues,” Durham says.
Determined not to be hopeless or helpless, Nia Hall puts on a neatly pressed black blouse and slacks and heads a few blocks away from Mosby to what residents call simply “the yellow house.” She aims to talk to a case manager to get her in touch with needed employment services, and is dressed as though an employer could walk through the door at any minute. A 28-year-old mother of three, Hall says she wants a professional job where she can help people.
She started coming to Kinfolks Community, based in that yellow house at 1421 Bryant St., shortly after arriving in Mosby six months ago. Bright and airy, and named Our House by the organization, it’s a beacon to many who are searching for new possibilities.
Homelessness landed Hall’s family in public housing, and she wants to make the stay as brief as possible. “I don’t like the projects — the projects to me is not for nobody unless you settle for less,” she says while she waits to talk with someone about her future. “It should be a stepping stone for people, but people get comfortable.”
Before she knew about Kinfolks, she heard from kids working in the organization’s Conservation Corps program planting gardens in Mosby, that it may be a place to get help. Since then, she’s received transportation assistance and guidance on her job hunt.
“When I came it was like I start walking, I start climbing up steps,” she says. “I’m still at the bottom of the step a little bit, but I’ll get there.”
Kinfolks brings multiple organizations under one roof to provide mental health service referrals, job training, information on breast feeding, cooking classes and church services. Throughout the day, people trickle in asking for help with résumés, rides or friendly advice.
Art Burton, 56, who heads Kinfolks, aims to move 84 families out of public housing through the revitalization of several dilapidated homes circling Mosby. The first step would be a $1 million renovation of 36 apartment units. Burton plans to work with contractor Andre Massenburg, who built Our House, to train Mosby residents to do some of the work on the revitalization project.
Enlisting Mosby residents to build their own future is part of Burton’s efforts for them to lift themselves out of poverty.
“Love me or hate me,” he says, “the expectation is that you have to do the work. There is no one here coming to save you.”
For all of Burton’s good intentions, the organization is plagued with financial issues.
Kinfolks was promised $120,000 by the city in August 2013, which was made available through a City Council budget amendment the year before. But Burton says that Kinfolks received only $70,000 of what was promised.
Despite the lack of funds, Burton started the Urban Conservation Corps that summer, which gave stipends to 25 teenagers to plant gardens and paint murals to beautify Mosby.
The program ended its first run in December 2013. Twice as many kids signed up in June 2014, but there was no permanent source of funds and help from the city.
Without cash on hand, Burton says he went without pay to finance the program. But paychecks came weeks late for the teenagers, who joined riled-up parents to demand their money on time.
“The kids did everything I asked them to do. The community did everything I asked them to do,” he says about coming up short. “The community didn’t fail me. The commitment just didn’t come in on time.”
Beds of leafy swiss chard and lettuce dot the grounds of Mosby as a testament to the hard work of the teens, even as the weather slowly begins to turn cold.
Kinfolks remains a trusted resource for many in Mosby, but for others the late payments were an unforgivable broken promise.
Darlene, William Crutchfield’s mother, is one of the more skeptical observers. “I try to stay away because of all the money stuff that happened with the children,” she says.
Her opinion isn’t easy to dismiss. She’s one of six women on Mosby Court’s tenant council, which serves as a voice for residents before the housing authority. They are elected by the residents and serve terms of three years. Burton says that they have considerable pull in the community.
In a way, the handful of mostly older women serve as the grandmothers and mothers of Mosby. They prepare Thanksgiving dinners and organize other events that get people out of their apartments and meeting with others in the community. The council is working with VCU Aspire to launch a program in January that teaches leadership and study skills to Mosby youth. They encourage residents to attend GED classes and want to bring a cosmetology training program to Mosby’s community center.
Poverty reduction is a priority for both Kinfolks and the tenant council, but it’s unlikely that the ice will thaw between them anytime soon.
Monae Gordon, a Mosby Court resident who serves as a community representative to Kinfolks, hopes that will change.
“When we have unity, it’s power. If the different organizations would unite, we can get a lot done a lot quicker,” she says. But the tenant council is on a different page, she adds: “They are like their own little organization. But we have kind of chipped away at the ice to get them to be more involved with Kinfolks.”
Organizations with multiple and different focuses should have greater coordination, community organizer J.J. Minor says: “They need to come together to make a difference as a whole.”
Minor does his part by registering voters, comforting the families of homicide victims and putting Mosby Court residents in touch with needed resources.
Despite disagreements or work that gets done within silos of suspicion, the stakeholders say that the youth are to be depended on to break the cycle of generational poverty.
Aquanetta Scott, also on the tenant council, can be found altering the dresses for debutantes, proms and weddings — garments that mark a new start in life for many young people in Mosby. “They need something done,” she says, “they can come here.”
The 58-year-old seamstress says she’s lived in Mosby longer than she can remember and has raised her two daughters there. Her trade was passed down from her parents, who were skilled tailors, but she’s struggled to gain employment since losing her full-time job when a cleaners closed in 2006.
She works with Mosby’s youth to ensure that they are aware of their rights, which poverty can strip away.
“It’s a whole lot of things that people are told,” she says. “If they get a notice saying they have to move in a certain numbers of hours … We have a lot of young kids that don’t know that they are entitled to a court hearing, so we have to be that voice for them.”
A recent setback has brought her daughter back to Mosby from a previous home in Henrico County. But Scott says she’s back on track to leave soon.
While the seamstress works to patch her community and is the strong thread keeping her family together, Scott has the same dreams for her offspring as Darlene.
“I’m hopeful she will leave again,” Scott says.
Both matriarchs work side by side to improve the community that enables them to weather economic hardship but also can claim the lives of their children.
Darlene says that decades in public housing can’t be ahead for her family.
“They don’t have to be like me,” Darlene says about her children and grandchildren. “They can be better than me.”
The future lies in Dominique, who sits close to his grandmother in her living room on Redd Street. He speaks of his dreams to attend a college in the state, then eventually moving. He’s considered a career in acting but sees police work as the most realistic option.
“I don’t want to stay in Virginia forever,” he says.
Darlene turns her head to the side to face him and slightly reels back.
“Really? I didn’t know that,” she says.
But in the end, the move could be a step forward.
“I don’t want to see him living in the streets,” she says. “College, that’s the best place for him, college-bound.” S