Crashing Glass

Sunday, November 30, 2003, was the last day of Kemar Campbell's Thanksgiving vacation. There's no way he could have known it would be the last day of his life.

The 17-year-old spent that afternoon playing basketball. By 4:15, he and his brothers had wrapped up their game and were walking back to their house from the courts at west Fort Lauderdale's Riverland Elementary, where all three had attended school.

Kemar and his brothers, 13-year-old Kerron and 15-year-old Kevon, walked down busy West Davie Boulevard, bouncing the ball, joking. As the trio passed an old storefront restaurant, a Chinese mom-and-pop joint called Shanghai Garden, Kemar made an impulsive, split-second decision.

For reasons no one fully understands, Kemar reached out and smacked one of the restaurant's plate-glass windows. With a sickening, brittle crash, it shattered. Kemar lost his balance and fell forward -- directly into the center of the broken pane.

A razor-sharp piece on the bottom immediately sliced his wrist clear through to the bone. A long, pointed dagger of glass dislodged above him and dropped, guillotining his neck so deeply that it not only severed his jugular vein instantly but punctured his lung.

Somehow, Kemar managed to pick himself up from the shattered window and stagger back to the sidewalk. His shocked brothers could only watch in horror. Blood was literally shooting from Kemar's injuries like a grotesque fire hydrant, one jet squirting from his neck, one gushing from his wrist, where every tendon and blood vessel had been cut.

Kemar continued walking, in a state of shock, in the direction of home. He made it across SW 25th Avenue before collapsing on the curb.

A bewildered crowd of bystanders, motorists, and area residents converged on the bloody scene. One driver who watched the accident unfold did a U-turn and tried to help. Josette Nash, a trauma nurse, called 911 as she tried desperately to stop Kemar's bleeding.

Within minutes, a man from the neighborhood came over and looked at Kemar lying in the street, covered in blood. He said Kemar was a kid from the neighborhood.

"You know him?" replied Nash's husband, Aaron. "Well, go get his family. He's dead." Kerron and the neighbor set out for home.

Two blocks away in the small bungalow she shared with her husband and six children, Sheila Fraser was preparing to leave for work. Still in the shower, she heard a door slam and her living room fill with shouting. "Mommy!" Kerron screamed. "I think something happened to Kemar!"

Fraser scrambled to throw on clothes and race up the street.

"I got there, and I could see it was Kemar," she says, remembering his body half-covered with a yellow emergency blanket, his eyes still open. "He was all turned around in the road." She could see he had been heading east toward SW 22nd Avenue, where they lived.

"Kemar was trying to reach home to me, and he fall," Sheila remembers. She dissolves into tears and buries her face in her hands.

"My baby!" she moans. "Oh my God!"

Kemar's bizarre, horrible death took an enormous toll on his family and friends, with Shanghai Garden emerging as a battleground where grief and anger coalesced. In the days that followed, the restaurant became a place of pilgrimage for those who loved and mourned the popular Stranahan High senior as well as a focus for their fury and revenge. The aftermath of the accident also dealt a devastating blow to the hard-working family that owned Shanghai Garden, battered by the violence and then angry retribution that played out in front of their restaurant. The lives of these two immigrant families collided in a horrific tragedy, with lasting repercussions of pain and regret that threaten to tear them both apart.

The residual pain still emanates from Sheila Fraser like heat from a sidewalk. On April 18, not quite five months after the accident, Kemar's mother threw him a birthday party like she does every year, with Black Forest cake (his favorite) and plenty of pizza and soda. Only this year, to mark his 18th birthday, she held the celebration at the cemetery where he is interred.

Kemar's younger brothers came along only because, Sheila confesses, she forced them to. Her 22-year-old son, Ricky, couldn't bear to be there at all. Kemar isn't supposed to be dead, Ricky told her. He's supposed to graduate from Stranahan High School and go on to college.

Listen to Sheila Fraser tell the story of Kemar's life and you begin to understand the deep, primal connection between mother and son.

Kemar was born in Westmoreland, Jamaica, in 1986. Sheila was 28 and married but relied on her mom to help her with childcare. In addition to Ricky, she had a daughter, Kim, who was a year older, and another son, Mickey, now 27. But when she and her husband migrated to South Florida in 1989, only Kemar, just 4 at the time, went with her. The other kids stayed with her family until she could afford to bring them over.

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton