Sunday, November 28, 2010
Actually, he was murdered.
Jesse was walking with his girlfriend down a quiet residential street when a car pulled up next to them. A young Latino man got out and leveled a shotgun.
In the moment it took for the assailant to fire the weapon and get back in the car, Jesse had taken a violent blast that spread from his abdomen to his hip. The girlfriend was shot in the foot. We’re told that Jesse lay on the sidewalk quiet, calm, and conscious for the two minutes it took for the wound to bleed out. Then he was gone.
Jesse was fifteen years old. He and his older brother, Jerry, became our new grandsons a year and a half ago when our daughter Amy married their father, Tommy. Tommy’s teenage boys joined Amy’s eight-year-old Levi and four-year-old Taryn from her previous marriage.
Eleven months ago was our first Christmas shared with this new extended family, and Jerry and Jesse were surprised but pleased when we presented them gifts labeled “From your new Grandma and Grandpa.”
Fifteen is the hardest of all the teenage years. You’re not quite old enough to drive, yet at that age there’s nothing you absolutely need to do more than to just get in a car and go. It's also an age where a boy needs to have some money in his pocket, and what jobs are out there for a kid that age? No one will hire a fifteen year old kid these days. No one.
Fifteen, for a boy, means having to walk everywhere you go and not having any money once you get there. It’s an age of soaring hopes intertwined with soul crushing helplessness.
Every kid dreams of turning sixteen, or eighteen, or twenty-one. Nobody looks forward to being fifteen years old. Fifteen sucks.
Fifteen is also the age many boys want to assert their independence, and two weeks ago Jesse informed his parents that he was joining a gang.
That was just ridiculous, of course. Jesse was too nice, too kind, too likeable to be a gangbanger. Besides, his father knew something about gang life, having been there, done that, and bought the T-shirt. Tommy came from a street-tough background, and told his son that gangbanging was nothing to fool around with. It wasn’t a hobby you could pick up and put back down. Tommy tried to reign his son in, to talk sense into him. He was repeatedly grounded. Grounding was ineffective.
For Jesse had a new girlfriend, a mysterious young girl he was now spending way too much time with. Sometimes he wouldn't even come home for a day or two, and when he did, he was grounded again. His parents took everything away from him -his cell phone, his XBox- but none of that mattered to Jesse.
He never brought the girl home. Kids his age often cringe at the idea of introducing a girlfriend to their parents, and Jesse worked diligently to make sure they never met. Amy tells me she only saw the girl once, very briefly.
Jesse was missing school and missing sleep, and his parents were throwing every punishment possible at him, even threatening to have him locked up for his own good. But at fifteen, a kid's hormones will always win out in any battle against the undeveloped pre-frontal cortex, so despite endless threats from his parents who ordered him to stay put under penalty of the harshest of punishments, the bedroom window was there right next to his bed, beckoning him to slip out through it. The girl was out there. His parents were in here. Parents here, girl there.
Sometime around midnight on the morning of Saturday November 27th, the pull of hormones, girl, and window combined to overcome any threat -or even thought- of punishment. Jesse chose the window, slipping quietly out into the cold night.
At twenty-six years old, my daughter's own teen years were not that far behind her, and Amy found herself uniquely suited to being an empathetic stepmother to a her new teenage sons. A former teen runaway and meth addict, Amy had spent considerable time on the streets -when she wasn’t locked up in Juvenile Hall. Like Tommy, she had gone into recovery and put her life in order; in fact, she and Tommy had first met in one of the recovery programs they both attended. Though long clean and settled into life as a normal wife and mother, Amy was streetwise and clued in to the kind of angst Jesse was feeling. They had long talks together, and Jesse found a willing confidante in Amy.
But since the new girlfriend, Jesse no longer wanted those chats with his new mom, and began to deliberately distance himself from Amy and the rest of the family. As for his father -well, Jesse’s father couldn’t possibly relate. His father’s tales of life as a gang member on the streets held no relevance for Jesse. Jesse was a gangsta now. He defined what cool was, not his father. Tommy’s vigorous warnings fell on deaf ears.
A day after his death, it was discovered that Jesse wasn’t actually a member of any gang at all. His friends report that he was looked on as a baby-faced white boy wanna-be who thought it would be the ultimate cool to play with the big boys. His friends have revealed that he had a secret MySpace page where his slogan was “Nothing matters more than my homies, NO LIE!”
Except Jessie had no "homies". He had dozens of devoted friends -I met them last night at a candlelight vigil- but everyone says he had no gangbanger friends, no gang “sponsor,” no bad boy reputation, no gun.
All he had was the desire to be in a gang. That, and the girl. The girl whose company he craved so badly that he was willing to endure any possible punishment to be with her.
No one knows at this point the motivation for the killing of young Jesse Jones. What we do know is that the killers are still at large. It’s possible that Jesse’s own mouth was what got him killed. Jesse claimed to belong to a certain gang, and perhaps a rival gang heard his boasting and decided to take him out. Maybe the killer was a jealous former boyfriend of the girl he was with. It’s even possible that he was killed for his own impertinence, murdered by members of the very gang he was trying to ingratiate himself into.
Jesse’s father realized long ago that the life Jesse wanted was a dead end. Tommy chose to get out. Jesse wanted to get in.
At fifteen years old, Jesse Dean Jones had only one dream in life: To belong to a gang.
Jesse never achieved his dream. He never got to be a gang member. He only got to die like one.
Update: Monday, November 29th, a suspect was arrested and charged with the murder of Jesse and the attempted murder of Jesse's girlfriend. Details and a photo here.