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Belle Glade Faces Its Demons After a Senseless Murder

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"Bradshaw doesn't give a crap about the western communities," says Mark Dougan, a former sheriff's deputy who worked in Belle Glade before leaving the force in 2008.

Yet Dulany says the deputies are busier than they appear, working undercover, tracking gangs. "There's a lot of misconceptions out there in the community about what PBSO does," she says.

She and other residents point out that crime is not unique to Belle Glade. Sheriff's officials told Dulany there were more shootings in West Palm Beach than in her town. But Belle Glade's small size — and a per-capita crime rate that's dramatically higher than West Palm's — makes the violence feel more intimate.

"It doesn't make you feel any safer, but it does make you realize it's not an isolated problem," Dulany says.

Dulany knows that the roots of Belle Glade's problems run deep. She's an elementary-school special-ed teacher and tutors some of her students for years after they leave her classroom. One young black man ended up breaking her heart.

She tutored Leonard all through high school. He had emotional and behavioral problems, didn't trust white people or police officers. But he trusted Dulany, who is white. When he came to her house for tutoring, he brought her 3-year-old daughter cookies and candies. Dulany introduced him to a friend who was a sheriff's deputy. The man gave Leonard his personal phone number and told the teenager to call if he was in trouble.

But trouble came anyway. Leonard dropped out of high school. He got caught pawning jewelry that did not belong to him. "I wrote him a letter in jail every single day," Dulany says. He wrote back, "Ms. Dulany, I want to get out of here, and I want to be the person you believe I can be." Dulany starts to cry while recalling it.

A month after his arrest, Leonard was playing basketball in jail. He collapsed on the court. An enlarged heart, the sheriff's officials said.

Leonard's dad called Dulany with the news. Her student was dead. "It was very hard," she says.

There are so many other kids like Leonard. If Dulany's efforts can save just a few, she'll be happy. "If everyone can take on a child and be with them... hopefully, we'll have more of that," she says.

Before he walked into the Alabama Georgia Grocery Store on January 2, Corey Graham Jr. was one of those kids. When he was young, he lived with his mom in the Glades and visited his dad on weekends. An argument with his mom's boyfriend sent Corey to live with his dad when he was 15. Errica Hearns said she was tired of her son, according to court testimony from a later custody battle. "The child was disrespectful, and she could not have him in her home anymore," court documents indicate Hearns told Corey Graham Sr.

Corey's dad and grandmother live in a four-bedroom ranch house on a sprawling plot of land in the horse country west of Riviera Beach. Corey Graham Sr. worked in sanitation before he had a stroke in 2007. Grandma was an educator who had also worked with people on probation and parole. Her house seemed a different universe from Belle Glade. When Corey stayed with them, Dad and Grandma told the court, the teenager earned good grades at Glades Central, obeyed his curfew, and spent his free time at home reading, playing computer games, and talking to friends on the phone. He played football and ran track, with his dad cheering from the sidelines.

But when Corey was living with his mom, his grades would slip. Their relationship appeared to be tumultuous. In October 2009, when Corey was 16, he asked the judge if he could live with his dad and grandmother permanently. A few months later, before the request was granted, Corey had another fight with Hearns' boyfriend. Hearns locked the boy out of the house, barring him from getting his clothes inside. According to court documents, Hearns told Graham Sr. to take their son because "she didn't care anymore." (Hearns and Graham Sr. declined to comment for this article.) She never showed up for the next custody hearing.

Finally, when Corey was 17, his dad won primary custody. A year later, the teenager graduated high school. But there was no football scholarship waiting for him. Instead, he enrolled in Palm Beach State College and started staying with his mom in Belle Glade. Her apartment was a few blocks from the Alabama Georgia Grocery Store.


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Lisa Rab
Contact: Lisa Rab

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