Family's efforts couldn't keep girl from harm
Jaxon Van Derbeken, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, October 20, 2008
Jonisha Tucker caught a 5:45 a.m. bus every school day to make a 1 1/2-hour trip to George Washington High in the Richmond District, taking her far from her housing project in San Francisco's Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood.
Family members hoped the school - along with their supervision - would protect her from the drugs, gangs and violence surrounding the Alice Griffith housing development, where the 16-year-old girl grew up with her mother and two older brothers.
Drawn to watch a fight just blocks from her home last week, the random violence that her family feared found her: Police said a 14-year-old boy fired a shot during the neighborhood scrap, killing Jonisha.
"It's sad," said Inspector Dennis Maffei of the San Francisco Police Department homicide detail. "This girl was an angel. She was taken from us by another child who should not have been playing with or handling guns."
The alleged shooter, a boy who lived in the neighborhood, is being held on murder charges in connection with her death, authorities said. Police said Jonisha was an unintended victim.
Her 26-year-old brother, Larry Barefield, said he tried to watch over her. He would not talk about what happened Tuesday night.
"I always tried to keep Jonisha out of harm's way," Barefield said softly, laying a bouquet of roses on a makeshift memorial outside the family's home. "I wish they had more activities to do, instead of letting these kids hang out, letting 14- and 15-year-old kids walking around with weapons, feeling like they have to protect themselves. It shouldn't be that way."
Growing up in tough area
Jonisha, known to her friends as J-Ray, was raised in one of the city's toughest housing developments, also known as Double Rock, near Candlestick Park.
Her mother, Annette McClendon, pushed to move the family of four into a larger unit, and eventually succeeded when Jonisha was 5 years old. McClendon was too distraught to be interviewed for this story.
As a youngster, Jonisha worked at the nearby Double Rock community garden.
"She weeded, planted vegetables," said Jacqueline Williams, who manages the garden. "She was a go-getter. She would take care of everything. She was good at it, too."
Dennis Molina, a neighbor who watched Jonisha grow up, said the girl had a natural ability to relate to others.
"She had a mind of her own, and she was a leader," Molina said. "She had this confidence about herself. It came from her mom, from her family."
Strong athlete, 'big heart'
Jonisha played basketball at Luther Burbank Middle School. She competed against boys in three-on-three community tournaments. The front room of her home is filled with trophies. Last year, she teamed up with two boys and took first place in the community competition.
"She was tough, very tough - like a man," Barefield said. "She had a big heart."
"She's a tough one. She'd take on the guys down here," he said, pointing to the project basketball courts.
When it came time for Jonisha to go to high school, her family decided she should go a well-regarded school. They settled on George Washington, at 32nd Avenue and Geary Boulevard.
Jonisha started to rebel. Her grades suffered in the ninth grade, but she still made the trip each morning to the school. Molina said he rode the bus with her.
"I saw her on the bus - she went to school every single day," he said.
She didn't want to join the school basketball team, either. The coach asked her to play, but she declined, saying the team was not good enough.
Her brother said he tried to tell her that she would make the team better, but he couldn't convince her.
This year, she seemed to get the idea of why her family wanted her to go to Washington. She started getting better grades, Barefield said.
Shots fired in clash
On Tuesday night, police say, Jonisha ran outside with her friends to break up a fight outside her home on Double Rock Street. Her mother went outside as well, but the two became separated. Jonisha left on her own with friends and went several blocks away to Hollister Avenue, near Third Street.
It was there, police say, that another fight was about to explode. Groups of youths converged, and an unknown teenage boy fired a gun into the air. Police say the weapon was soon in the hands of another boy, a 14-year-old who was already on juvenile probation for brandishing a weapon that turned out to be a BB gun.
What happened next is unclear, but the boy fired a shot, police say. The bullet hit Jonisha in the head. It was 7:37 p.m.
In seconds, investigators who happened to be nearby rushed to the scene as the youths scattered.
Jonisha was taken to San Francisco General Hospital. She died two days later.
Maffei said witnesses helped identify the shooter, who was detained Tuesday night. He told investigators the gun went off as he was running with it.
Police say they haven't determined whether the boy fired the gun by accident or whether he intentionally fired it and hit Jonisha by mistake.
Maffei said Jonisha was not involved in the clash.
The veteran homicide inspector was devastated by Jonisha's death.
"Her mom said she loved her and did all she could to protect her," Maffei said.
"For me, a cop of nearly 32 years, you think after a while that things won't touch your heart. Then, something like this: It breaks your heart all over again."
At the projects where Jonisha lived, neighbors held candlelight vigils in her memory last week. They created a memorial of candles, stuffed teddy bears and photos behind her home.
Under a photo of Jonisha, a mourner left a message: "We miss and love you J-Ray."