Deja vu

April 2, 2009

By Jacob Quinn Sanders
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

As Toboris Molden lay dying from a gunshot wound on a February night 15 years ago, he took care to say goodbye to his grandmother, his mother and his two younger brothers.

The youngest brother was Anthony Jackson, named for his father and just a year old at the time. On Wednesday, their mother again grieved the loss of a son. This time it was Jackson, who was 16. Little Rock police found him and a family friend each shot in the head inside a red 1999 Pontiac Sunfire at 2:30 a.m. stopped in the intersection of West 22nd and South Valentine streets.

That is two blocks from where Molden was shot.

“My son got shot on [West] Martin [Street], and now this one got shot on Valentine,” their mother, Debra Smith, said as she stroked her forehead with her long green fingernails. “Fifteen years apart. I can’t question God, but I want to know why.”

Jackson was her fourth son, older only than Smith’s 11-year-old daughter. She described him, as mothers tend to do, as respectful and a “good boy.”

She said she knew he wasn’t perfect. He ran away a couple of years ago after a stint in a juvenile hall to avoid a sentence of boot camp.

“He said he’d rather live on the streets than go to boot camp,” Smith, 48, said.

He met people on the streets, people his mother called “not the right kind of people.” Jackson started selling drugs to make money and survive, she said. He had not been to school in at least a year.

“Everybody knew Anthony was selling drugs,” Smith said. “It wasn’t no big secret. But when I just saw him on Sunday, he come by my house and he told me he was thinking of turning himself in. He wanted to start a new life. I don’t know if he knew how to do that yet.”

Little Rock police found Jackson dead in the Pontiac shot in the back of the head, sitting alongside the body of Kenneth Marion, 57, a neighborhood handyman with a long record of drug abuse and prison stints.

“I have been getting phone calls all day with people trying to tell me something they think about what happened,” Smith said. “I just don’t know what the truth is yet.”

Investigators had made little progress in the case Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s still early,” Little Rock police spokesman Michelle Hill said. “We’re confident we’ll keep progressing in the case and get to a positive outcome. Somebody called in hearing the shots, so we know there are witnesses out there.”

One of Jackson’s uncles is Leifel Jackson, a former drug dealer who claims the title of co-founder of the Original Gangster Crips gang in Little Rock. His life is sufficiently different today that Gov. Mike Beebe considered granting him a pardon in January.

“We were close,” Leifel Jackson said of his nephew. “He loved his Uncle Leifel.”

Uncle and nephew talked regularly, sometimes about life on the streets.

“I was talking to him a few months ago, or maybe a year ago, and he told me how proud he was of me for turning my life around,” Leifel Jackson said. “He said it let him know that no matter how deep he was in his own mess that there was always a chance that he could turn his life around.”

Just as each child is different, Smith said, her reaction to Jackson’s death is far different from how she felt when she lost Molden.

Molden was known as a good child, always home by 9 p.m. He avoided the gang life that consumed many of his peers growing up around West 22nd and South Valmar streets in the years before his death.

He was 15 when he was hit twice in a drive-by shooting at 22nd and Martin. At least one bullet entered his body from the back as he tried to hop a fence. The angle of his jump put the bullet on a path to his heart, his mother said.

He ran a block and banged on his mother’s back door until she opened it.

“He told me he was shot,” Smith said. “But I couldn’t find any blood. He didn’t look like he’d been shot. You couldn’t see anything on him.”

Molden’s mother and grandmother helped him lie down. More relatives gathered around, including 1-year-old Anthony Jackson.

“We were telling him to hang on, that he was going to make it,” Smith said. “But I guess he just knew. He told us to be quiet, said he had to say goodbye to everybody. He said goodbye to me, to his grandmother. He said goodbye to his brothers.”

Taken to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences hospital, Molden died in surgery just before midnight.

A decade and a half later, Smith sat on her overstuffed couch wearing a white Barack Obama T-shirt and fighting her memories and her emotions.

She no longer lives in the neighborhood where she grew up, the one that claimed her two sons, having moved two years ago to a house just west of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. It was from there that she went at 3 a.m. to try to get close to Anthony Jackson after police told her he was dead.

“It wasn’t like with Toboris,” Smith said. “I didn’t get to see Anthony. I didn’t get to say to him that I loved him. I didn’t get to touch him. I still haven’t seen Anthony’s body.”

There is one way in which Smith said she hopes Molden’s death will be different from Jackson’s. Though Little Rock police arrested two people in Molden’s killing, one was acquitted, and charges were eventually dropped against the other.

“He never got justice,” Smith said. “It wasn’t like people didn’t know who did it, but nobody wanted to be a witness.”

For that to happen in her younger son’s case is unacceptable, she said.

“Not this time,” she said. “Somebody saw something. Somebody knows something. This will not happen again.”

  1. […] reporter doesn’t come along too many stories like this one. Death in the same family, sure. In the same generation, […]

  2. Sam C says:

    That really tugs at the heart strings. Anytime somebody is hurt by the uncaring actions of others I get a certain pain in what can only be called my soul. Thank you for presenting this in a way that doesn’t dishonour the memory of those brothers. To the mother I could only say, May your pain be lessened knowing that Anthony was trying to change.

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  4. Tpeano says:

    That was my fm dogg. My best friend growing up we went T.B.C ,we went to school with each other. Ya know and for this to happen to my friend like that was some ole sick shi.. And I think the Popo”s dont care about they fams feelings.But you also gotta understand you REAP”What you Sow” So Mommy D. Its gonna come to light.TeBo will never….die! So if you a pic. Of my best friend mommy send me some I need some.

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