Jen and I met the Fenwick family on an unseasonably chilly, rainy September morning. The first thing Tanya Fenwick did was embrace me. Tanya is an early elementary school teacher. Her kindness, patience and warmth are clear indications that she is well suited for her field.
Tanya and Kevin have been married for 34 years and, with the exception of a few years in an apartment before Kendal’s birth, all of their married life has been spent in this townhouse on Overview Drive. Tanya reviewed this text, as do all “Behind the Statistics” participants, and made only one correction: “This needs to be in bold. This is our family home.”
The emphasis upon family is evident throughout the warm and inviting space. The Fenwick’s residence is covered in family photographs. There are three Bibles stacked neatly next to a photo montage of Kendal. One of the few frames that does not hold a family photograph is a canvas with the quote, “To be loved is to live in someone’s heart forever,” written in elaborate script.
Tanya begins to talk about her son and remembers a video of him. She starts looking for the footage on Instagram. It demonstrates Kendal’s vibrancy and energy in a way that words cannot convey. Tanya’s a bit distracted as she struggles to find it. A tall, young man walks in the house as she is searching her phone. She breathes a sigh of relief, “Kevin, you can do this. Help me find that video of Kendal in his truck.” The young man smiles sweetly at his mother and pulls a cell phone out of his back pocket. Kevin Jr., named after his father, is Kendal’s older brother. Tanya’s boys were incredibly close.
Kevin exchanges pleasantries with us as he scrolls down his screen until he finds the video, and then excuses himself to get ready for work. His mother tells us that he is learning the contracting business from her husband, Kevin Sr., in hopes that he will take over the family business. We gather around the small screen Tanya is cradling in her hands to watch the video.
Kendal is sitting in his eighteen-wheeler, holding his cellphone and filming himself. He had transitioned from long distance trucking to local routes so that he could be with his three children at night. The interior of his vehicle is spotless. Tanya laughs, “He was a clean freak.” He is handsome and tall like his older brother. “He knew he was handsome too. The girls loved him,” Tanya remembers. “He always dressed up. My husband and older son don’t care much about clothes. They are fine walking around after work with paint on their clothing. But Kendal, he was like I was in my younger days. Everything was perfect. One spot and he would run upstairs to change. He looked like he stepped out of a magazine.”
The first words Kendal utters in the video are about his three children: how much he loves them and how important it is to him that he is part of their lives. Then Kendal looks into the camera, his gaze is intense and unwavering, and says “When I am dead. They are going to have everything they need.” The footage is moving and haunting.
Kendal died at the age of 24 not long after he took this video. He was building a fence to keep local drug dealers out of his yard and protect his three young children, Kendal Jr., Chloe, and King. Before the fence could be completed, he was shot and killed by someone running through his backyard. Kendal left his children with more than most young men killed in Baltimore can hope: a house, some savings from his job, and dedicated grandparents who have assumed the roles of caretaker.Tanya's son was shot as his children watched cartoons just feet away Go #BehindTheStatisticsClick To Tweet
Kendal’s family weren’t the only ones who made sure the children had all they needed. Thirteen police officers showed up at the Fenwick’s door with more than a dozen bags of toys for the children after their father’s death. So many people brought food, gifts, stories about Kendal, and offers of assistance that Tanya was overwhelmed by the generosity. Tanya had always been the caretaker and provider for the community. She wasn’t prepared to be in the position of receiving this outpouring of care and compassion.
Kendal was adored in the neighborhood and his friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers all wanted to show the family how much Kendal meant to them. His friends started the Justice for Kendal movement after his murder. Search the #JusticeForKendal hashtag on social media and you will be overwhelmed with an abundance of posts.
Support extended far beyond the internet. His peers came to the Fenwick’s home to share their memories with Kendal’s family. One close friend talked about how Kendal had saved him from the drug trade, helping him find a job driving a truck rather than selling drugs on the corner. Tanya was held up by tale after tale of Kendal’s impact on so many lives. It’s not difficult to imagine his generous spirit after meeting his family.
One day, as a teenager, Kevin Jr. came home to his mother and confided to her, “Other families aren’t like ours, are they, Ma?” Confused by his query, Tanya asked what he meant. “Well,” Kevin began, “if someone asks you for something and you got it, you give it to them. If someone needs a place to stay and we have room, you give it to them. If someone is hungry and needs food, you feed them.” Tanya and Kevin, Sr. have always been committed to providing a helping hand to people in need. She couldn’t imagine saying no to someone when she had the resources and ability to assist them.
Even with this abundance of love and support, Tanya knew her boys were enticed by the power, money and prestige commanded by the local drug dealers. “They were tempted. I know that Kendal was especially,” she says. But Tanya wasn’t about to let one of her boys fall prey to the local drug dealers. “I can remember when the boys were about four and six I was walking them to school and one of the men on the corner called out to them by name.” What did this typically quiet, reserved, tiny woman do? She called the drug dealer out. She chastised him for addressing her young children and made it abundantly clear that her children were not to be preyed upon.
Kendal was about to go to work and take his children to their grandparents’ home the night he was killed. He heard a disturbance and told his children to stay upstairs. He walked to his backyard and was caught in a spray of bullet fire. Tanya, who has kept her emotions at bay, begins to weep, “He wanted to build that fence by himself. I keep thinking, what if I had just given him the money. He could have completed it and maybe he would be alive.” Tanya isn’t the only one asking what-if questions. Kendal Jr., who was only five at the time of his father’s death, spent the first few months asking his grandmother, “What can I change so Daddy will come back?” One of the hardest things Tanya had to do was to teach her grandchildren the definition of death.
Tanya returned to her job as a teacher a few weeks after her son’s death. She was confused by some of her coworker’s coldness and distance. At first, she assumed that they didn’t know how to approach her. Then one of them came to her and asked, “Is it true that Kendal was a drug dealer?” Tanya was shocked. “No Kendal was not a drug dealer,” she said. Her colleague, clearly relieved, only then offered her sincere condolences. The insidious and pervasive myth of blame was alive and well even within communities that are so harmed by these stereotypes. And even if Kendal had been a drug dealer, would his mother not merit the sympathy and condolences of her peers? This myth feeds into a false sense of self-preservation: my child isn’t the type of child to be murdered… my child isn’t the color of children who are shot… my family doesn’t live in a dangerous community.
Tanya has always been involved in her community. She led and organized The Young Debutantes’ yearly cotillion. A number of the young girls did not have fathers to help them practice the dance steps or dance with them at the ball. Kendal, Tanya’s “GQ” son, agreed for years to wear a tuxedo, practice with the girls and attend their ball so that even the girls without fathers would have a dance partner. “The girls all loved him,” Tanya smiled. It isn’t hard to imagine 13-year-old girls swooning over this handsome, older teenager as he attempted to fill their father’s shoes for the night. What is hard, painful really, is trying to imagine this young, devoted father gunned down in is backyard as his children watched cartoons and waited for his return.
Kendal C. Fenwick: November 1991 – November 2015
Written by Liz Banach, Executive Director, Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence