By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — Both girls loved to dance and performed together with a group named the Harlem Angels. They were both well-known in their East Harlem neighborhood as bubbly teenagers with potential.
And both of their lives were ended by bullets fired by gunmen in what everyone close to the pair can only describe as senseless violence.
Cheyenne Baez, 17, was the innocent victim of a Harlem shooting last October when a gunman walked into the courtyard of her mother's apartment at the Jackie Robinson Houses at East 128th Street and Lexington Avenue and opened fire. Tysha Jones, 16, a high school sophomore, died Thursday when a gunman opened fire on the Brighton Beach boardwalk where she had gone to beat boredom and the heat.
When Baez' mother Lisa heard the news she took the three block walk from her apartment on East 128th Street and Lexington Avenue to the building where Jones' mother lives at East 131st Street.
Baez says she felt like it was happening to her all over again.
"I've already walked this road," Baez said Friday at Harlem River Park where Jones mourned with family and friends.
The two women spoke quietly, hugged and shed tears together. And when a reverend led a group of people from the neighborhood in prayer, Baez grabbed Jones' hand, held it up in the air and squeezed tight.
"Cheyenne was my only child. I know exactly what she's going through," Baez said.
Jones said she was too overcome to speak most of the day. She broke down in tears when her turn came to speak about her daughter, the youngest of her four children, at a press conference.
Baez, who said she struggles every day with her daughter's death, couldn't hide her anger and frustration.
"When you do evil to people, you can't get away with it. These monsters can't get away with it," Baez said. Two Harlem men, Boris Brown and Devon Coughman, have been charged in Baez' death.
The irony of these two young girls who were friends both being killed in such a similar manner resonated with a neighborhood still struggling to come to grips with the first shocking murder.
"This is a tight community. Cheyenne lived right down the block and it seems like they just put up a memorial for her" said Jones family friend Audrey Johnson. "They both died by guns. That's something that has to be dealt with."
In a twist, Nilsa Diaz, 57, Cheyenne's godmother, said she was at Brighton Beach the day of the shooting but was in shock when she heard that it was Tysha Jones who had been killed.
"It's like I'm living in a nightmare. Another loved one from my neighborhood is gone," she said.
Barbara Tice, sitting in Harlem River Park, dropped her hand towards the ground as she described how tall Cheyenne and Tysha were when they began dancing in the neighborhood block parties. She described both girls as talented and fun-loving.
Instead of dancing at this year's block party, they'll both be names on the T-shirts recalling those who died.
"They should both still be here," Tice said.
In front of Tysha Jones' building, next to a growing memorial, Iesha Sekou, founder of Street Corner Resources, sat with Jones' young cousin Kamora Allen, 7.
Both were writing notes. Kamora was scribbling a note to her cousin while Sekou was writing a list of things the community could do to combat gun violence. After three years of showing up at these sort of memorials, Sekou said she was tired.
"It hasn't even been an entire year since Cheyenne was killed. The proximity of these two girls tells you how frequently this sort of thing happens." said Sekou.
"The doors of the people this happens to will continue to come closer and closer until we do something about it. We have to take action before it's on our own doorstep," she said.