Another black kid dead and gone, innocent of doing anything wrong.
Darius Simmons was like a lot of 13-year-old boys – funny, boisterous and a little braggy.
“He was a jokester, loving and funny,” said Toni Clark, who taught him sixth grade at Gaenslen Elementary School in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood.
His friends and family gathered Saturday to remember him in front of the house he moved into 29 days before he was gunned down while retrieving a trash can from the street.
John Henry Spooner, his 75-year-old next-door neighbor, is charged with first-degree murder in the boy’s death. Spooner, a widower who has been diagnosed with cancer, had complained to Ald. Bob Donovan about a break-in at his home earlier in the week, blaming the family next door.
Spooner admitted to police that he shot Darius on Thursday morning, even as the boy had held up his arms and ran away.
“It’s very disturbing,” Donovan said Saturday. “John lived in the neighborhood a long time. I never knew him to so much as loiter or spit on the street.”
The houses sit 15 feet apart on the 1900 block of W. Arrow St., a traditional south side neighborhood of modest wood-framed houses, small lawns and tall ash trees. A prayer service and news conference drew more than 50 people Saturday afternoon.
Patricia Larry, Darius’ mother, sat on a chair on the front lawn, sobbing as family members fanned her and wiped her forehead with a wet cloth.
Betty McCuiston, Darius’ aunt, said the boy was in school Tuesday when someone broke in to Spooner’s house and stole some guns. She said police searched Darius’ house after he was shot but did not find any of Spooner’s guns.
“He was gunned down for something he did not do,” she said.
McCuiston said her sister moved to the neighborhood on May 1 from the north side because she wanted something quieter and safer than her old neighborhood.
Darius talked about going to Milwaukee Tech high school, said Clark, the teacher.
“He was determined to get a good education,” she said, noting that he often rode his bike more than seven miles each way to go to school.
“Once he had me watch him on the playground to show me how far he could throw a football,” she said, smiling.
On the day of the shooting, Darius was home from school because he did not feel well, McCuiston said. She said he went outside to bring the trash can back in from the street when Spooner confronted him about the stolen guns. The boy denied stealing them, and his mother, who was also outside, told Spooner to leave them alone.
Spooner then pulled out a gun and shot the boy twice, the criminal complaint alleges. Darius died a few hours later.
McCuiston said the family is angry – at the police for not being more responsive to Spooner’s original complaint about the break-in at his house, at Donovan for not doing more, and especially at Spooner.
“No mother should have to sit in a hospital and wait for the doctor to come out and say that she is sorry but he did not make it,” McCuiston said.
“We have to talk to each other as neighbors,” said Jose Perez, an alderman for the area. “We need to do a better job communicating with one another. One neighbor is dead, another is in jail.”
McCuiston said she agreed with that.
“I don’t think God designed for a mother to bury her 13-year-old son,” she said.
Spooner was arraigned in Milwaukee County Circuit Court on Saturday morning, where he was told that he is charged with first-degree intentional homicide, use of a dangerous weapon.
A court commissioner found there is probable cause to hold Spooner on the charge and set cash bail at $300,000.
No representative for Spooner could be reached for comment Saturday.
This is just horrible. People we need to put down the guns, they aren’t solving anything. People are dying for things they didn’t even do. CHILDREN are dying over crimes they haven’t committed. Why are our sons and brothers walking targets???
Source Photo Credit: Meg Kissinger