By Jody Callahan of The Commercial Appeal
The same day that several Memphis congregations took to the streets to march against violence, police were investigating three more homicides in the city, including an 18-year-old woman shot to death in the heart of Downtown.
Those three homicides in an eight-hour span — the one on Second Street, one on the northern edge of Cooper-Young and another in Parkway Village — bring this year’s tally in Memphis to 91 victims.
Compared to the 53 homicides at this point in 2015, that’s an increase in killings of nearly 72 percent since last year. If the number of homicides remains on this pace, the city would end the year with about 233 killings, 20 more than the record of 213 set in 1993.
“That just takes the air out of us,” said Keith Norman, pastor at First Baptist Church-Broad and one of the organizers of Sunday’s march. “I’m hopeful and positive that we’re doing the right thing, but until our community comes together at every angle, Memphis is in trouble.”
Norman said the 100 or so people from his church were joined by as many as 20 other congregations throughout the city in Sunday’s protest. In addition to walking through nearby neighborhoods, the First Baptist members also lined Sam Cooper Boulevard with handwritten placards protesting the violence.
“Our goal and our hope is that people will stop with the violence,” said Sheena Freeman, another protester Sunday. “If we don’t speak to it, we can’t change anything.”
The latest spasm of violence to hit the city began around 10:40 p.m. Saturday in the 3400 block of Luzon in the Parkway Village area. According to police, the suspect demanded money from the 28-year-old victim, then opened fire. The man was taken to the Regional Medical Center, but did not survive. No arrests had been made.
Then, around 12:30 a.m. Sunday, a woman and two men were walking on Second across the street from the Flying Saucer. A man in a car drove by, police said, and opened fire, striking all three. Myneishia Johnson was pronounced dead on the scene while a 19-year-old man was taken to the Med in critical condition. A 23-year-old was also taken to the Med, but in non-critical condition.
Officers working Downtown heard the shots and rushed to the area. They saw a Nissan Maxima fleeing the scene and gave chase, finally stopping the car near Interstate 55 and Third. On Sunday afternoon, authorities charged Kwasi Corbin, 19, with first-degree murder as well as two counts of attempted first-degree murder. He was being held in the Shelby County Jail. According to an affidavit, Corbin told police he fired an assault rifle into the group of people. No motive was given.
On Sunday afternoon, blood still stained the sidewalk beside the shuttered Peabody Place, and a bullet hole was visible in the brick wall above the blood. Johnson was a senior at Booker T. Washington High, scheduled to graduate this Friday. She played volleyball and basketball for the school’s Lady Warriors.
“She was a good person. She loved her family. She loved basketball. She got her a job and a place to live,” a distraught Terri Johnson, Myneisha’s mother, said in a telephone interview late Sunday night.
“She was an honest person. If you asked her, she was going to tell the truth, even if it caused her to get into trouble,” said her coach, Steven McKinney. “Always smiling, just give you a lot of great vibes. I just loved her to death.”
Johnson also leaves behind a son, Kaylan, who was born last summer, McKinney said. The infant is being looked after by Johnson’s mother and aunt.
The third killing happened around 6:35 a.m., when police responded to the northern edge of the Cooper-Young neighborhood. There, a little south of the intersection with Central, police found a man who had been shot to death.
The man, who was around 20, was in a small driveway across from 800 S. McLean; the driveway is blocked off and leads to a vacant area near railroad tracks. A long blood trail was still visible there Sunday afternoon. No arrests had been made in that killing, either.
Raymond Neal was one of those taking part in the anti-violence march Sunday. He and his wife live in the Sherwood Forest neighborhood off Park Avenue, not far from the University of Memphis.
They hear gunshots constantly, Neal said, and are terrified living there. They hope to move soon, Neal added, and are considering Olive Branch.
“My wife and I like to enjoy sitting out in our backyard, barbecuing and enjoying the squirrels. It’s getting increasingly more dangerous as the days go by, the weeks go by,” said Neal, 64. “We’ve had a couple guys running through our backyard before. Scared us. They were running from shootings.”