Aisha

Aisha and Tracey

Everyone who met Rasheedah Muhammad and her younger sister, Aisha, thought they were twins. In fact, people knew them as the “trouble twins.” If Rasheedah ended up in the principal’s office, you could bet that Aisha was right behind her. “I followed her everywhere. She didn’t always want me around, but she didn’t have much of a choice,” Aisha laughed as tears fall down her face.

Though their mother worked hard to care for her children, life was not always stable for the sisters. Their father was in and out of prison and rarely present in their lives, and the girls lived with their grandmother for a while when their mother worked to get her life in order. The one thing the girls could always count on was one another.

Jen took this photo at The Old Town Mall in Baltimore. It’s an eerie place with a 200-year history marked by booming growth, recession and attempts at revitalization. Today, it resembles a ghost town. Most of the 64 shops — housed in brick row homes, elaborate Victorian structures and art deco facades — are shuttered. An imposing clock tower looms over the pedestrian pathway, hinting at a time when this East Baltimore neighborhood flourished.

Aisha walked me to a deserted lot located next to what used to be the mall’s flagship retailer, Kauffman’s Department Store. Here, she introduced me to her mother, Tracey Rooney, who smiled warmly. Pointing to some balloons tethered to a glass bottle, Aisha says “This is where they found my sister.”

On the morning of September 18, 2012, a mother who lived in the apartment complex next to the mall rushed her young children through pouring rain in an attempt to deliver them, safe and dry, to school. Out of the corner of her eyes, the mother saw what she thought was a woman sleeping in the lot. She returned home to get a blanket for the woman… and then back to the woman to discover the rain-soaked, blood-drenched body of Rasheedah Muhammed.

Tracey, who had returned to school to further her education, was on campus the morning of September 18. She was in her classroom on the verge of taking a test when a detective from the Baltimore Police Department called her and told her that she needed to return home. She tried to reason with him and explain that she had a test she could not miss. The detective was calm but clear, “Ms. Rooney, you must come home.”

It was a mother’s and a family’s worst nightmare. Rasheedah was buried on her younger sister Aisha’s 25th birthday.

Anniversaries are painful, but the reminder of the funeral stings more than other memories. The woman who the family believes killed Rasheedah attended the service. She, like all the other guests, offered her condolences, but Aisha knew.

The woman believed to have killed Rasheedah attended the funeral service to offer her condolences. Go #BehindTheStatistics with Tracey & Aisha.Click To Tweet

 

Rasheedah had considered the woman one of her best friends. Tracey recalled her daughter bringing this friend to her home, having meals with their family, going out to clubs together.

“I remember being so mad at my family that they wouldn’t tolerate me making a scene at the funeral,” says Aisha. “I wanted to yell at her. I wanted to hurt her. But I had to think of what my mother would feel if I did that. I couldn’t act out of my anger as much as I wanted to do just that.”

Aisha and Tracey know who killed Rasheedah, but the detectives can’t prove the woman committed the crime. There was one witness willing to testify, but he refused to provide the information because he wanted his drug charges would be dropped if he spoke.

In the days after Rasheedah’s murder, Aisha and Tracey lived in fear for their lives. Tracey left the city and took her younger children and Aisha’s daughter, Aminah, now 11, to the safety of the suburbs.

Aisha couldn’t leave her two steady and good-paying jobs in the city but she remains determined to leave Baltimore as well. Last year, Aisha gave birth to a little boy, Ja’mari. Though she no longer fears for her life, Ja’mari’s arrival made the need to leave Baltimore even more pressing.

The last time Aisha saw the woman who killed her sister, she was pregnant with Ja’mari. “I never want to say I hate anyone because hate is a strong word, but I hate the way they (the killer and her accomplices) are living,” she says. ” I hate the way they post pictures on Facebook. I hate that they don’t care. It’s so heartless.”

Aisha is comforted by memories of her sister. Though her face is tearstained, Aisha smiles as she recalls Rasheedah referring to the Ravens as the “raisins.” Her sister loved football and Peyton Manning was her man. She was a voracious reader.

Her favorite movie was “Selena”. The film was about a rising pop star who was shot and killed in her twenties by a woman she knew well and trusted. How terribly ironic.

Rasheedah’s death devastated her step dad whom she adored and affectionately referred to as “Fruit” and her siblings Artemis, Jaleel, Yasir, Tyriq, Fatima and Jamilh. Rasheedah had so many friends that it would be impossible to recall them all: Ciera, Nazy, Tierra and Tiffany, whom she called Baby Momma, were among her closest. And there was her childhood sweetheart whom everyone knew as Bear.

“She found ways to spend time with each and every one of us,” Tracey recalled. Sometimes she would even invite her mother to join her for a night on the town.

“She could not dance to save her life,” Tracey grins. “You couldn’t tell her that, but she was so bowlegged.” The two women fell into a fit of laughter, remembering Raseedah’s comical attempts at dance. While she couldn’t dance, she always looked good. “She would never leave the house without her long hair combed out. She always had to look pretty,” Aisha recalled.

Aisha and Tracey have both tried to find peace in the years after Rasheedah’s death. Tracey found great comfort in the counseling services offered by the State’s Attorney’s Office. She doesn’t know what would have happened to her if she didn’t have that support. Aisha tried the counseling, but felt it wasn’t for her, though she knows now that the retribution she initially sought won’t ease her pain.

“I just want to know why. Why did they kill her? Jealousy? Money?” Aisha begins to weep. Like so many families in Baltimore, Aisha and Tracey know their loved one’s killer, but they may never know why. And rarely do family members see charges brought against the killer. Justice in this city is elusive.

Rasheedah Shanae Muhammad, June 6, 1986 – September 18, 2012

 

Liz Banach
Written by Liz Banach, Executive Director, Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence
Photo by Jen Pauliukonis, President, Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence

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