Friends and neighbors of two slain young people in Bloomington said they just do not understand how it came to this.
Taneshiea Brown, 20, and Stephen Alexander, 18, died from gunshot wounds in the back yard of a row of duplex apartments on Bloomington’s east side Sunday morning. Two others were also wounded.
More than 130 people gathered for a vigil at 1221 Orchard Road on Monday evening. They brought balloons and posters and lit candles in memory of Brown and Alexander.
Friends and relatives of Alexander described a charming young man who liked basketball and rap music and lived every day like it was his last, someone who always had a joke and liked to play fight with people.
“He was too sweet to leave this earth. He did not get a chance to live. He was loved and cared for. He just made 18 and just had a baby (daughter). He always kept a smile. No matter how mad he made me, no matter how often I put him out of the house, he always came back with a smile,” said Alexander’s aunt, LaPorsche McCray of Bloomington.
Alexander was attending the regional alternative school, according to friends. Irvinia Daniels said she knew Alexander all his young life.
“His mom kept him in church (Mt. Pisgah) so he knew God and he is with the Lord. To be absent from the body and with Christ is a blessing,” said Daniels.
"My daughter shouldn’t be gone. She really shouldn't," said Taneshiea Brown's mother, Angel Hoskins of Dubuque, Iowa.
"She was a very, very loved young lady. She had just graduated from high school. She was going to start nursing school in the fall. She had a good job. My daughter tried to help any and everybody. Even if she didn’t have, she would come say, 'Hey ma, my friend has such and such a need and can you help? And it's always about her friends and how to help," said Hoskins.
Brown had worked at Afni after graduating from YouthBuild late last year. She had dreamed of being a pediatrician, according to an aunt. Hoskins said she had just talked with her daughter at 10 that night and then received a call not two hours later from someone saying Taneshiea had been shot in the back. Hoskins said she called her sister, Gaynett Hoskins, who lives in Bloomington and nobody knew anything.
"Now, here I have to get ready and bury my baby. It’s crazy. Senseless killing. Where are they getting all these guns from? It baffles me. Justice needs to be served because I have to live without my baby. And my son has to live without his sister. I’m not understanding it. I’m really not," said Hoskins.
Aunt Gaynett Hoskins said she wants some things known about her niece.
"Just her smile. She walked in a room and you could not be upset around her. She had this contagious laugh. It did something to you. You had to laugh when she came in. And her kind embrace was just give me some love, all that love. She did that to anybody around her. If you were a friend or a friend of a friend, you were family to her, and that’s why there were so many people out here for her. She was very well loved. And she still is. We love her dearly, dearly," said Gaynett Hoskins.
Family members also lamented the erosion of community they have experienced.
"Bloomington needs to pay attention to the crime going on rather than the petty stuff. It’s so much petty stuff that they pay attention to get their quotas or whatever. Pay attention to what’s going on. If it wasn’t for these kids not having nothing to do. They take the taxpayers' money and build new jails. What about building something for these kids to have something to do? What about preventing some of this homelessness because it’s like a domino effect. Everything that goes on in a community plays a factor on everybody, and when you don’t pay attention to the big problem, how do you get anything accomplished? We talk about doing. Instead of talking about it, be about it," said Brown's uncle, Stepny Stones.
Stones said he has lived in Bloomington for 15 years. He asked for something to allow people to play basketball, go swimming, or go to summer camp, as when he was a boy.
"On weekends they had a bus that picked up kids, take 'em skating, doing different things. Nowadays these kids, it’s summer time. They have nothing to do but exactly what they do, stand around. And when you get a bunch of kids in heat, muggy angry, aggravated, what happens after a couple of hours? Looks like what we’re going through now, tragedy," said Stones.
Stones asked for prayers for the family.
Asked how U.S. culture can be changed to lessen the likelihood of violence, aunt Gaynett Hoskins replied it takes respect for children and what they see adults go through.
“They have the same troubles. They have nightmares. They have insecurities and anxiety. We need to make sure we acknowledge that, ask them what they want, ask them what they need,” said Hoskins.
Hoskins said times have changed drastically since she was a child. She says they have to acknowledge that there is a problem and then to work as a community to fix it because the "kids are seeing the worst of the worst."
"I grew up on the rougher side of Chicago and yet there was a community. Everyone watched out for all the kids. When my grandma was not around there was Miss Verna down the street to watch out for us. Now, it’s everybody for themselves. We’re not going to make it as a community if everybody is looking at it as that’s their problem. Back then we all ate together. We all cried together. We all did everything. And that’s what I feel is lacking right now," said Hoskins.
She called on city leaders to help with services.
"Right now we are putting money in coliseums and jails. We are not working on mental health. We are not working on substance abuse, even though Bloomington is enriched with resources," said Hoskins.
And when there are programs, she said, they are not easy to access.
“How many restrictions do you have on your programs to prevent people from using your services. Help them. Help them!" said Hoskins.
Police are seeking input from members of the public who might have attended what is believed to be a large gathering that took place before the shooting and who might have seen something.
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