As officers load Israel Jackson's body into a white medical examiner's van, a shirtless young man paces back and forth, clenching his fists and staring down gawkers. He stops to scream out the dead man's name.
Jackson's father, Kermit Lottie, stands by an apartment complex gate. He is surrounded by relatives trying to comfort him. He does not speak or look up. His 24-year-old son is dead, shot in the head on a warm spring night in northeast Oklahoma City.
Police have reported 85 homicides so far in 2012, mostly concentrated on the central, east and south sides. Excluding 1995, the year of the Oklahoma City bombing, that number is the highest in since 1993, when 92 homicides were reported.
What's going on?
The Oklahoman spoke to police, community leaders and people who work, volunteer and live in a small section of the northeast side, where 14 people have been killed this year within four miles of the state Capitol.
Jackson died June 7 in the parking lot of a federally subsidized housing complex. Shavon Johnson, who was with him, also was gunned down that night. She was shot in the chest and died at OU Medical Center within an hour. When Jackson's body arrived at the state medical examiner's office, a copy of The New Testament was among his possessions.
The complex's name, Sooner Haven, belies the violence that has taken place there this year. A resident milling around the homicide scene June 7 noted the regular gunfire there: “Every day is like the 4th of July.”
An FBI drug sweep targeted Sooner Haven in August. About 430 people live in the rows of tan and gray apartments. More than half of residents are younger than 18, and the average annual income is about $12,000, according to Oklahoma City Housing Authority data.
Deena Thomas grew up on Oklahoma City's northeast side, raising three daughters who have graduated from college and now attend graduate school.
She met Israel Jackson during a two-year stint teaching English at Douglass Mid-High School.
News of his death disturbed her; she remembers her former student as a gentleman, polite and cordial, and willing to participate in class.
“Never in a million years could I even imagine that his life would end in such a tragic way,” she said.
Jackson disappeared from Oklahoma City Public Schools' records after the 2008-09 school year. He then served time in prison on multiple convictions for possession of drugs such as marijuana and crack cocaine with the intent to distribute, records show.
Thomas attended her former student's funeral at Temple & Sons funeral home, in the same neighborhood as the killings. Funeral director Mark Temple said he has buried at least five gang members or their affiliates this year.
Joshua Londale Rogers, a member of the 107 Hoover Crips, was charged in July with Jackson's and Johnson's deaths, court records show.
A safe place
On a recent Wednesday night, DeWayne Walker welcomes the children streaming into the fellowship hall at Prospect Baptist Church, sharing hugs and high fives. The effusive youth pastor — in pinstripes and suspenders, tan pants and sharp shoes — exudes energy as a live hip hop band knocks out beats in the background. From the kitchen, kids, from toddlers to teens, retrieve a sloppy Joe, a bag of chips and red punch from a church volunteer.
The church, 2809 Missouri Ave., sits amid the crime scenes where the 14 homicides occurred. The deaths include two people who died after confrontations with Oklahoma City police.
“We're in the heart of the 'hood,” said Walker, who founded a nonprofit called Earthquake to facilitate events like the weekly Youth J.A.M. (Jesus and Me). “We're here on purpose. Every day you're going to see homeless people walking. You see lots of things, definitely drug activity going on. Prostitution, you name it. You're going to see it in our neighborhood.”
Wednesday gatherings and Thursday tutoring sessions are held at Prospect Baptist in an effort to inject something positive into the lives of young people living amid poverty, violence and drug activity.
One of the children recently told Walker that his mother had been taken to jail on drug charges. Now the family is split up. At an October group session, the topic was the fear of God. But more worldly fears — like being shot while asleep in bed — kept creeping into the discussion. Fear of violence keeps the children who come to the church from playing outside or trusting a neighbor. This is their reality, Walker said. That's why creating a safe place is so important.
In their neighborhood, it's hard to get away from the bad stuff like violence, drugs and gangs, the children at the church said.
“Everywhere you go you see it,” said Brandon McElroy, 11, who attends F.D. Moon Academy and said he wants to be a hip hop and R&B dancer.
Hard, not impossible