Friday, December 12, 2008
Families who live in Southeast San Diego say they're still coming to grips with the tragic loss of two promising high school students. Seventeen-year-old Monique Palmer and 15-year-old Michael Taylor were gunned down last Saturday after leaving a house-party in their neighborhood. Police say they were innocent victims of gang violence. Family and friends want answers. KPBS Education Reporter Ana Tintocalis has more.
The phone has been ringing all week at Michael Taylor's house. But Michael's mom Denise doesn't have the emotional strength to take messages.
Denise still can't believe Michael is gone.
Denise: The other morning I got up, to go downstairs, to tell him to get ready for school. And he wasn't there.
Michael grew up in Southeast San Diego - a community where gangs and violence are a part of life. But the 15-year-old stayed out of trouble by playing sports. And this year he began a new chapter in his life. Michael began attending Point Loma High School where he was the starting corner back for the varsity team football team. He was in the ninth grade.
Denise and family friend Judy Alford-Mayo say Michael was a rising star.
Denise: His athletic ability was going to take him there it was going to make him be somone. It turned his whole life around. There was just a glow in him.
Judy: He had a very bright future, and that was his way out of San Diego and out of this community.
Pat Wafer: Monquie was not a gang member, never has been.
Pat Wafer is a community service officer for San Diego City Schools. He had known Monique Palmer since she was in the fifth grade. He's in charge of a student club called Students Against Violence Everywhere.
Monique loved the club so dearly that she signed up in elementary school….and then created a new chapter as a student at Lincoln High School.
Monique was taking Advanced Placement classes, served on the school's student council and was recently accepted into Cal State Los Angeles.
Wafer: If you look at Disney she was just like fantasy land -- just a good bubbly kid you know who wanted to come back to her school.
She believed she could come back to eliminate gang banging and drug dealing.
Michael Brunker is the executive director of the Jackie Robinson YMCA in Southeast San Diego. He says there are 52 gangs in the community where Michael and Monique called home. He says Michael and Monique were defying the odds.
Brunker: Both fathers of both of these children are in prison. Monique was raised by her grandmother for the most part. These kids live in the environment, they've seen it all their lives, and they have made a decision to move on with their lives in a proactive ways and do great things. And their lives were snuffed out by somebody with a gun.
Michael and Monique were at a house party last Saturday when three vehicles filled with suspected gang members showed up.
The suspects reportedly flashed handguns and yelled gang challenges at the party before driving away.
Michael and Monique were leaving the house with a group of friends when the alleged gang members fired shots into the crowd. Monique died on the spot. Michael died at a hospital shortly after.
Yolanda Banks was a friend to both teenagers.
Banks: I still cry today. It’s hard to bury people. We keep burying people, keep burying people. It just needs to come to a stop.
Community leaders say there has been an increase in gang-related deaths over the past couple years. But they say many of them go unsolved because parents and friends of suspected gang members are afraid to turn them in.
So far no on has been arrested in the murders of Monique Palmer and Michael Taylor.
Judy Alford-Mayo - the friend of Michael's mom Denise - says people need to put their fears aside.
Alford-Mayo: I wouldn’t call that a snitch. I call that a coward, not coming forward. If you were man enough to go there, and ride down the street, with your guns showing and kill these young people, you need to be man enough to step forward.
The families of Monique Palmer and Michael Taylor are raising money to pay their funeral expenses. Their memorials are set for next week.
Ana Tintocalis, KPBS News.
If you would like to help the Palmer and Taylor families, you can contact Michael Brunker at the Jackie Robinson YMCA in Southeast San Diego .
And stayed tuned as KPBS Education Reporter Ana Tintocalis brings us more stories in the coming weeks about gang violence in Southeast San Diego .