A 9-1-1 call signaled the trouble. Police arriving at the Marathon Gas Station on Elvis Presley Blvd. in Whitehaven rolled up on another chapter of a deadly, unfolding story – Memphis’ soaring homicide rate.
The victim in the Sept. 3 fatal shooting was Demetrius Robinson, a Whitehaven High School student-athlete who dreamed of playing football in the NFL. The senior was found lying on the parking lot with a gunshot wound. He was rushed to Regional One Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
“It’s just sad about the direction our community is going,” said Memphis City Council Chair Patrice Robinson, who represents the Whitehaven district. “We are grieving this young man’s death collectively as a community, and our children are grieving their friend.
“I was told that Demetrius always said he was going to the NFL so he could buy his mom and dad a house. Now, this happens.”
“This” – another homicide – clicks Memphis forward toward a record-breaking high if the rate does not slow, according to the Memphis and Shelby County Crime Commission. In the first quarter, 60 percent of homicides were victims 24 and under.
In the month of July, there were 43 homicides, propelling Memphis to the second or third most violent city in the nation per capita, a commission report showed. The first week in August of 2019, there were 102 murders. The city has reported 154 this year.
The record? In 2016, 228 homicides were recorded.
On Monday afternoon, a group of rival coaches returned to the scene of Robinson’s shooting in a show of solidarity and to take a stand against violence in the African-American community. Police were on hand distributing flyers that recounted the details of Robinson’s killing and asking anyone with information to call CrimeStoppers at 901-528-CASH.
Shelby County Schools Supt. Joris Ray released a statement. In part, it read:
“When our students, families, and employees grieve, we grieve alongside them. It is unsettling to witness others push personal opinions following incidents like the tragic passing of a Whitehaven High School student-athlete. Connecting an act of gun violence with the District’s decision to delay fall sports and prioritize the health and safety of students and staff is absolutely deplorable. The large number of children affected by gun violence is an issue that impacts our entire city and county.”
Ray urged every resident “to take what is happening personally” and declared that the time has come for everyone to come together and seek solutions to violence in Memphis.
“Rather than casting blame, let us stand alongside our families with the determination and power to actualize change,” Ray concluded.
Whitehaven High School Principal Dr. Vincent Hunter said the Whitehaven School community was still reeling from the news of Robinson’s death.
“Here, you have a kid, 6’6”, 230 lbs, about to go to college somewhere on an athletic scholarship,” said Hunter. “This is very personal to me. I love these children, and this is tough. This is very tough.”
Hunter said Robinson had just been in school virtually, kidding around with his teachers, right before he was shot at that gas station. His teachers were stunned.
“It’s so sad,” said Hunter. “What do you say to a 16-year-old kid about a classmate who has been killed? It’s tough. Now, when 14 year olds come in, I tell them that only by the grace of God will they see the same classmate four years from now. We never had to have that conversation when I was 14.”
Hunter said Robinson always wanted better. He wanted to help his family. It was his dream to go to college and get drafted to the NFL.
“Demetrius was going to college and get a piece of paper that was going to change his whole life,” Hunter said. “Now, that is all gone.”
Hunter said head football coach Rodney Saulsberry and his staff have been with the football team.
“Those boys are heartbroken,” Hunter said. “All of us are heartbroken.”
Hunter spent the Labor Day weekend working with School Seed to get Robinson’s funeral expenses paid.
“Thank God, everything is all taken care of,” Hunter said. “School board commissioner Shante Avant put us in touch with School Seed, and we want to thank her for that.”
Funeral arrangements for Robinson were still pending at the TSD press deadline.