Murdered Teen Walter Sumter Was Trying to Turn Over a New Leaf

By Jeff Mays on January 4, 2012 5:59pm 

Walter Sumter, 18, was shot in the chest and killed on Friday, Dec. 30.
Walter Sumter, 18, was shot in the chest and killed on Friday, Dec. 30.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

HARLEM—The last time Aswan "Sparkplug" Morris saw Walter Sumter alive, he requested prayer.

Morris, who works with a Christian organization and helps run the Police Athletic League's basketball program that Sumter participated in, had a running discussion with the teen about his treatment of women.

Sumter, 18, was having a loud cell phone conversation just days before he died with a young woman that Morris thought was rude and called him on it.

"We always talked about life and treating women right. That night we asked if he wanted prayer. He said: 'I do need Jesus. You should pray for me,' and we just got it in. That was the last time I saw him," Morris said.

That Friday, Dec. 30, Sumter was leaving a party at 254 W. 154th St. when he was killed by a single gunshot wound to the chest just after midnight. Police say they have not made any arrests but questioned and released the brother of murdered basketball star Tayshana "Chicken" Murphy.

The motive for the shooting — the latest in a string of violence among youth in the neighborhood — was not immediately clear.

On Wednesday, hundreds of mourners packed Mt. Neboh Baptist Chrurch at Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard at 114th Street for Sumter's funeral. Mourners described him as a good kid who had been headed in the wrong direction but seemed to be trying to get a handle on his life.

Rev. Johnnie Green, pastor of Mt. Neboh, used Sumter's eulogy to call for an end to the cycle of violence.

"Our communities and neighborhoods have become war zones. Senseless battles have been fought with no significant causes," said Green.

"This could not be what Martin Luther King Jr. had in mind when he gave that famous speech in D.C. and said 'I have a dream.'"

Afterward, Green said the teen was in church the Sunday before his death.

"I saw Walter. He stayed for the whole service," said Green. "He had been a good kid. It was just in the last year or so, I can't pinpoint when, that the switch came."

Among his peers, Sumter had a reputation as a big brother.

"He looked out for everyone on the block," said Jaquana Brown, 14, a friend from the neighborhood. "He made sure everyone was safe."

Another friend, Kayla Rodriguez, said Sumter was a "good friend."

"He was the best person. He always made you smile," she said.

In the weeks before his death, Morris said he had been speaking to Sumter about returning to school. Green said Sumter's father had arranged for him to enter a program to help him with that goal.

'Walter was getting himself together, that's why we were all shocked when this happened," said Green. "He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He just got caught up in that vicious cycle."

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