Dead End

Bullets are flying and young men are dying in Deerfield's street war between Haitians and African-Americans

Jennings' mother says she hasn't seen much change.

"Everybody just lets this go on in Deerfield," Hankerson says. "So people think they can get away with it."

Her son's killers have gotten away with it so far. Nobody has been arrested in Jennings' murder, and the attempted-murder charges against Watson and Mortimer were dropped after his execution on the street. Hankerson says she took the stand at a court hearing, trying to represent her lost son, but both suspects were allowed to go free.

Ozell Jordan
Ozell Jordan
Ozell Jordan
Ozell Jordan

Then, on the night after Christmas in 2005, it happened again.

This time, it hit even closer to home for Strobridge. He was with longtime friend Ozell Jordan on that chilly evening at the Stanley Terrace Apartments on SW Second Street, across the street from Westside Park.

Not long after leaving the apartment about 9 p.m., he heard gunshots, by then a routine occurrence. Strobridge thought it might have been in celebration of the coming new year.

Then a young boy ran up and told him that somebody had been shot in the complex. Strobridge raced to Jordan's place, Apartment 64, to see his friend lying facedown in a puddle of blood. While others tended to the 24-year-old victim, Strobridge tried to comfort the mortally wounded man's mother, Linda, who was calling her son's name over and over again.

"Ozell was trying to talk, but he couldn't get any words out," Strobridge remembers.

Jordan was pronounced dead at the hospital less than an hour later.

"That's a night I'll never forget," he says. "I was praying for him until the paramedics got there."

The shooting remains a mystery. Strobridge says that, unlike Jennings, he didn't know Jordan to have any enemies. He wasn't violent or known to carry guns either. Records show, however, that he had been arrested on cocaine charges just six weeks before his slaying. The prevailing belief among those at Stanley Terrace Apartments is that a Haitian faction was involved in the murder, Strobridge says.

Whereas Jennings' funeral was marked by rage, Jordan's was dominated by sheer despair. "It was a very, very sad funeral," Strobridge says. "Everybody was confused and shocked. Of all people, why would it happen to a nice person like Ozell?

"I'm really tired of parents burying their kids."

Wayne Adams, who was born and raised in Deerfield, says shootings are so regular there now that he can sense when one is due. "You can feel it coming," he says. "It's about one a week, I'd say. Then somebody has to spray somebody's house or the park."

Law enforcement records support Adams' estimate. From the beginning of 2006 through the middle of this January, there were 101 shooting complaints, 45 of them confirmed.

Almost one a week on average. But in the summer, as South Florida baked under a sweltering sun, the number rose — and so did the human toll from the gunfire.

Take July 15, for example, when two Haitian teens tried to rob 19-year-old Clark Paul of his gold chain and car rims. The youths, identified in court records as 16-year-old Wesly Dorcelus and 19-year-old Willy Exume, both pulled guns. But it was Dorcelus who pulled the trigger as Paul tried to escape.

The bullets missed.

Fast-forward five weeks to August 21 at Westside Park. African-American teens Elvin Holmes and Kareem Moore were hanging out by the parking lot when a car pulled up. Holmes saw the visage of R.B. Wilkins, a youth of Haitian descent, in the passenger seat before Wilkins pulled a black T-shirt over his face.

Then Wilkins started firing a pistol, according to police reports.

Holmes got away unhurt, but 17-year-old Moore was hit in the back of his thigh. The bullet remains lodged in his leg to this day, says the boy's mother, Amy Butler.

She has never met Rozanne Owens, but the two have a lot in common. Both are worried sick about their sons' fascination with the mean streets of Deerfield. Both received a call with the heart-rending news that their sons had been shot. And both now cringe every time the phone rings and pray every time their sons leave the house.

On September 16, Owens' 17-year-old son, a first-generation Haitian-American named Jessy Ulcena, was shot in the back during a drive-by while hanging out a couple of blocks from their home. The bullet went through his guts, exiting his belly. Ulcena was airlifted to Broward General, where doctors saved his life.

Charged in the crime was an African-American teenager named Jarvis Hicks.

"Jessy couldn't eat for ten days," Owens says of the aftermath of the shooting. "They had a big surgery to repair his small intestine. They cut his chest open to his belly button, 25 stitches. Now if he eats too much — he's a good eater; he likes eating — he throws up everything."

So Owens, like Butler, knows the horror of having a son shot in the street all too well. And both abhor the violence. But the two moms couldn't be further apart on where they believe the trouble is rooted.

To explain what is happening, Owens recounts a time she was walking home from a Deerfield Beach High football game. She says a man told her she should hurry home.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help