Amor Williams and her husband, Tyrelle Williams, longed for a baby. Amor was nearly resigned to the notion that she would never be able to conceive. Then one day, after countless negative test results, the tiny plus sign on the slender drug store pregnancy test appeared. Their baby was a miracle.
A few months into the pregnancy, the couple went to doctor to learn if their child would be a boy or a girl. The fetus refused to cooperate and the ultrasound technician could not make the determination. Tyrelle decided that the baby was a boy and went on a shopping spree to buy clothes for his child.
One month before their baby was born, Tyrelle was shot and killed.
Amor struggled to pick the location for this photograph. She considered her church, their home, their neighborhood, and a park where she and Tyrelle would go to talk. Then it dawned on her: The Barclay Recreation Center, now known as the 29th Street Community Center.
Preschoolers were playing on the colorful playground equipment when we arrived to meet Amor on a beautiful November morning. Cheerful murals covered the walls: images of children and their families. Amor pointed at one, “That one reminds me of Tyrelle and our dog Queenie.” The painting depicts a man smiling with a dog by his side.
Amor and Tyrelle met at The Barclay Recreation Center when she was 11 and he was 12 years old. The community center serves as the perfect backdrop for a budding young romance. She was won over by his contagious smile and kind spirit. The two friends lost contact in their later teenage years, but neither one forgot the other. One day, she decided to try to find the charismatic boy from her childhood. The task proved almost impossible, but then she ran into Tyrelle’s younger brother. She soon learned that Tyrelle had been asking neighbors what happened to Amor the sweet, vivacious and pretty girl from his childhood. The two old friends quickly fell in love and became inseparable.
Tyrelle’s extended family embraced Amor and welcomed her into their homes and hearts. Tyrelle’s grandfather was a general contractor and Tyrelle longed to follow in his footsteps. Tyrelle built a small business and established a good reputation as a contractor in his Charles Village neighborhood.
Amor still smiles with pride each time she sees the impossibly straight set of stairs he built on a neighbor’s home on a particularly hilly street. Tyrelle was more reluctant to introduce Amor to the other important woman in his life, Vanessa, his mother. Vanessa was fiercely protective of her children. She raised Tyrelle and his two younger siblings, by herself, in the house she grew up in. There were few women that met her high standards. She would ask him, “Are you bringing home another crazy one, Tyrelle?” But Amor was different… Tyrelle knew it and it didn’t take Vanessa long to see it either. Today, Vanessa looks lovingly at Amor and says, “It’s like she is one of my own.” Amor returns the smile and clearly shares the affection for her mother-in-law.
When Amor saw Vanessa’s phone number pop up on her cell phone on May 16, 2017, she was immediately seized by a bad feeling. Vanessa’s call was not out of the ordinary — they spoke often. In fact, Tyrelle and Amor would help Vanessa stay awake during her 10pm to 10am shift at Proctor and Gamble by calling her.
“What is it, Ma?” she asked.
“You just need to come home, Amor,” Vanessa responded.
Amor was eight months pregnant and on the bus returning home from her job as a dental assistant. She felt her baby constrict in her womb. Something was wrong. She could not reach Tyrelle, so she called her best friend who attempted to assuage her concern and reminded her to stay calm for the baby’s sake. She called her pastor and prayed with him on the remainder of the ride. She then exited the bus and walked to her mother-in-law’s home.She felt her baby constrict in her womb. Something was wrong. Go #BehindTheStatistics w/ AmorClick To Tweet
“I felt like I was in a movie. Everyone on the street was looking at me with such sympathy,” Amor said, shaking her head. She lumbered up the stairs, tired, concerned and heavily pregnant. Vanessa looked at her and whispered, “He’s gone.” Tyrelle’s family tried to keep Amor calm, terrified that her grief would jeopardize her unborn child’s health. Amor was inconsolable.
The evening he died, the police sat with the two women and informed them Tyrelle was the 129th murder victim in Baltimore for 2017.
“My son will not be a statistic,” Vanessa forcefully whispered as a tear rolled down her face and she attempted to hold back the sobs. Not only does Vanessa mourn the death of her son, but she also fears for her family. They live in the neighborhood where Tyrelle was murdered.
“I was born in this neighborhood. I’ve never had to be afraid of anything or anyone,” Vanessa stated. “Now we can’t breathe. We are always on guard.”
Amor has written letters to the detectives and the State’s Attorney begging for justice and assistance, but has received no reply. The community where the family once prospered no longer feels like home. Not only do Amor and Vanessa feel abandoned by the justice system, they also feel unsafe in their neighborhood.
The four of us sit at a pizza restaurant and talk about Tyrelle. “Do you have any idea why this happened?” I asked.
“He was a soldier,” Amor stated, “and he fought until he couldn’t fight anymore.”
“What was he fighting?” I asked.
“Being a black man in America. What didn’t he fight?” she laughed. “When you are young and black and live in this city, every day is a fight. It’s a fight to live. A fight to work. A fight not to end up under the wings of the wrong people. And Tyrelle fought until the end.”
“Was this your first experience with gun violence?” I asked. Amor knit her eyebrows and looked at me incredulously. She is a kind and gentle person and her expression quickly softened and she smiled, “Of course not. Especially here in Baltimore.” Amor began to list the dead, “My god brother was murdered. A classmate I tutored was shot and killed in 2009. My cousin was killed by her husband. Tyrelle’s cousin Sweetpea was killed two weeks before him. Then on the way back from Tyrelle’s cousin funeral, someone was murdered in our neighborhood, on our block.”
The violence is an epidemic. Pockets of the city are protected, but the bloodshed is spreading at an alarming rate while much of Maryland turns its back on the problem. Each shooting inspires retaliation and retribution. Each moment of violence becomes a contagion spreading to someone else.
Both women are concerned Baltimore is becoming increasingly more dangerous. Amor looks at her daughter, “I pray we can move away from the city and protect baby Ari’a as she grows.”
Tyrelle learned that he was having a little girl before his death. He was thrilled, but he never returned the little boy clothing. “She looked so much like Tyrelle at first that it was painful for me to hold her,” Amor recalled. “But now I see her as the gift that she is. Nothing will replace Tyrelle, but God filled a void with Ari’a.”
Tyrelle asked Amor to name her Ari’a shortly before his death. The name means powerful and complete. As I sat across the table from Amor, Vanessa and Ari’a, it struck me how fitting that was.
Tyrelle Williams: September 21, 1990- May 16, 2017
Written by Liz Banach, Executive Director, Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence