Dead End

Page 3 of 8

There, school officials say, he was a promising and dutiful student. "It looked like he really wanted to do the right thing," school director Terry Routley says.

Barbara Brown, a tutor at the center, remembers being struck by his presence, his handsome face, the intelligence in his eyes, and the unruly short dreads that grew from his head like a spider plant.

But he was gone before she ever had a chance to speak to him. On October 24, 2004, Jennings walked out of the Abco food market near Dixie Highway and Tenth Street — where the owners still remember "Stevie" as a good customer. When he got to the sidewalk about 6:45 p.m. on that Sunday, a car pulled up and assailants opened fire.

Minutes later, bystanders nearby flagged down a deputy. By the time the deputy got there, Steven Jennings was dead on the street, less than 100 yards from the Abco door.

Strobridge got the call about Jennings' death in Atlanta, where he was on vacation. "I was shocked," he says. "I couldn't believe it."

The entire automotive training center fell into mourning. Brown, the tutor, happened to be taking an art class at the time. When she saw a school photo of the fallen student, she was inspired to mold the teen's face. It soon became, as she puts it, a "labor of love."

Brown, a white, middle-aged mother of two from affluent Parkland who'd only dabbled in clay in college, would spend six months on the bust. She toiled on the sculpture right there at the automotive school, not sure if she could pull it off. "It was kind of an out-of-body experience," she says. "I surprised myself."

Jennings' fellow students were fascinated by the work. They would touch it. Their eyes would get misty, even some who, like Brown, hadn't even met him. And they would still mourn, just as his friends and family had at the young man's packed funeral.

Strobridge attended the services. He remembers not only great sadness but another emotion in the room, a stronger one that seemed to burn in the tears dropping from reddened eyes.

"I felt anger," Strobridge remembers. "You could just feel it, especially from his friends."

The future was easy to predict at that funeral. The violence was only beginning.

Jennings' death jolted entire neighborhoods. Adams, who works for the City of Deerfield Beach, had already seen the problem blowing up on his street, which is generally in Haitian territory, south of SW Tenth Street. The murder only confirmed to him that the problem was getting out of hand.

"One night, the Haitians got so angry, they got in a caravan of cars, and they were hanging out the windows with sawed-off shotguns, Uzis, pistols," he says. "They were sitting out the door like you were in Somalia or something like that. That's when I knew we were in serious trouble.

"My street used to be the quietest street in the world. Now I have to go to my car with my gun in my hand, cocked and ready."

One neighbor of Adams' on SW Fifth Terrace is 20-year-old Kevin Artelus, a first-generation Haitian-American. In early 2005, a car rolled up on him and his friends as they hung out in front of his house.

A window came down, and a gun came out of it. The boys inside yelled, "Die! Die, fucking Haitians!"

Then the shots started ringing out. Artelus, believing he was about to die, ran as fast as he could to his backyard and leapt a fence. He wasn't hurt. But one of his friends took a bullet in the buttocks and had to be taken to the hospital. Ironically, the friend, Michael Hill, was an African-American.

Last week, Artelus stood outside his home near where the shooting took place. There's still crime-scene tape on a nearby sign from another shooting that occurred more recently. He points to the house next door.

"There's a bullet hole in that door, and the side window is boarded up because of another shooting," he says. "That house down there was all shot up a bunch of times. The stop sign down the street still has bullet holes in it. See that blue car? It has a bullet in it."

Adams looks at Artelus, whom he has known for many years and considers a friend. "I don't look at him as a Haitian," he says. "I look at him as another black American. I've seen him grow up."

But many factionalized youths didn't see it the same way, as Jennings' death underscored so dramatically. Adams has logged dozens of calls regarding gunfire on his street, and after Jennings was killed, he went to see then-Deerfield City Manager Larry Deetjen. He told him the city had to do something about the violence.

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman