Dead End

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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.

"After the game, American people want to shoot Haitian people," he told her.

"Why?" she asked.

"I don't know. They just don't like us."

Owens expounds: "Haitian kids are stepkids of this country. That's the way the American kids treat them. They don't realize that the country belongs to us too, to me and to my kids. It's everybody's country."

Butler sounds the same way, only she blames the opposite side.

"The Haitians had him running home from school every day. Kareem would go to a friend's house by Deerfield High because them Haitians would be chasing them with guns. Then I would pick him up. And the school never does anything to stop it. They let the Haitians beat up our boys and then blame our boys for it."

Adding to the similarities, both Butler and Owens have taken their sons out of Deerfield High in an attempt to save their lives.

But that didn't keep Kareem from narrowly escaping another hail of bullets on September 23, the 20th birthday of his friend Elvin Holmes.

Holmes might have thought himself lucky to survive his teen years after getting away unscathed from the gunfire a month earlier at Westside Park. Strobridge, who knew Holmes well, says the boy, like so many youths in Deerfield, was aimed solely at the streets. He'd been busted on heroin charges in early 2006. But last fall, he enrolled at the Youth Automotive Training Center. Strobridge accompanied him to the school.

Holmes was following in Jennings' footsteps.

"He was running with the wrong groups of people," Strobridge says of Holmes. "But he was on track of getting his life together. He stopped smoking; he cut off his dreads. But you know, when you want to do right, it's hard when evil is all around."

Evil found Holmes while he was celebrating his 20 birthday at the La Quinta Inn on Hillsboro Boulevard. And it came in the form of the wrong set of hands gripping a .40-caliber pistol.

Again, Dorcelus, the boy accused in the July 15 shooting, was involved, according to deputies. And again, his older friend, Willy Exhume, was nearby, as were two more cohorts, identified as Herman Jean Jacques and Anderson Metarer. The quartet often hung around the motel with Manoucheka Elie, a cousin of Dorcelus' who was dating Exume and carrying his child, according to police reports.

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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