Mayor's Unexpected Tribute Welcomed by Mom of Slain Bronx Teen

By Patrick Wall on May 1, 2013 6:55am 

LONGWOOD — A week and a day after her middle child was gunned down a few blocks from their Bronx apartment, Jenaii Van Doten considered the chores she needs to face — seemingly mundane tasks that she knows are going to break her heart.

She must empty her son Alphonza Bryant III's locker at the Bronx high school from which he was soon to graduate.

She has to have tailored his unworn prom tuxedo so that his younger brother might wear it instead.

She needs to call the community college he planned to attend next year and cancel his financial aid.

She must contact his school and ask someone to stop the daily automated messages informing her that he had missed class.

But for the moment, on Tuesday afternoon, she was busy with another unwelcome task — a three-hour tattoo session to adorn her arm with Alphonza’s face.

It was while getting that homage to her murdered boy that her phone began to quiver with calls and texts from friends eager to tell her — the mayor is talking about your son.

“Last week, a Bronx resident named Alphonza Bryant was shot and killed while standing with friends near his home. He was 17,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a speech Tuesday to officers at police headquarters.

Van Doten was shocked — she had not heard from the mayor or his aides, either after the shooting or before the speech.

But she was also grateful — he let the world know her son was senselessly murdered, and even chastised some news organizations for not covering the shooting.

“We just thank him for putting it out there,” said Van Doten, 46. “That he was a good kid.”

About the substance of the speech, in which Bloomberg excoriated the Police Department’s critics and ardently defended its practice of stop-and-frisk, Van Doten was more measured.

Though Alphonza stayed away from gangs and guns, police had stopped him several times as he roamed his neighborhood with friends, Van Doten said.

A few months ago, Alphonza was on the phone with her while ordering a sandwich in a local bodega with friends when police officers initiated a stop, Van Doten said. With cops cursing at him, Alphonza said to her, “Ma, I got to get off the phone,” Van Doten recalled.

“When they were stopping him,” she said, “I bet somewhere along the line, somebody was getting shot.”

Still, she believes the tactic can be a tool to rid the streets of guns — if police target the right individuals.

“They need stop-and-frisk, but they need to modify it,” Van Doten said. “We need it to save our children.”

About 8:15 p.m. on the evening of April 22, Alphonza and a friend were chatting with a girl they knew outside her apartment at 1159 Fox St., according to the friend, Yusif King-El, 19.

Two men in their early 20s wearing hoodies walked by, Yusif said. Then, they stopped and turned back.

A series of pops erupted that Yusif thought were fireworks. The two men ran off.

Moments later, Yusif saw blood streaming out from under a car.

When he bent down, he found Alphonza gasping, with bloody wounds in his chest and his eyes rolled back. Soon, he was rushed to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

According to law enforcement sources, the shooting stemmed from an internal Latin Kings gang dispute that did not involve Alphonza. Cops don't think he was part of any gang.

One Latin Kings crew based near the scene of the shooting had slashed someone from another Latin Kings crew several weeks earlier, the sources said. That slashing was not reported to police.

On the night of the shooting, two men from the rival crew were searching for the slashers, sources said.

Instead, they found Alphonza, and one of the men fired 10 shots toward him, sources said.

Cops believe they have identified the suspects and are seeking to question them, sources added.

On Tuesday evening, hours after the mayor’s unexpected ode to their friend, Yusif and three other young men stopped by Van Doten’s fifth-floor apartment to reminisce about Alphonza, whom everyone called BeeJay.

A chubby child, he had grown into a tall, handsome teenager who charmed girls and paid painstaking attention to his attire, even sleeping in designer T-shirts.

Van Doten, a construction-site cleaner, indulged her son’s habit, sometimes waiting in early morning lines to buy him the latest sneakers. The last pair she bought him, Nike’s coveted Barkley Posite Max, still rest in their box on a shelf in his closet.

Alphonza feverishly posted pictures of his outfits and himself on Instagram, where he had amassed nearly 7,500 followers — some whom joined the ranks after his death.

He played several sports — basketball, football, skateboarding — and planned to attend New Community College in Manhattan, where he thought he might apply his sketching skills to architecture.

He ached to earn his driver’s license before his 18th birthday in August. For that, he imagined a grand celebration with friends, when they would drive outside the city to go camping and visit an amusement park.

His father, for whom Alphonza was named, had been fatally shot when Alphonza was a small child, Van Doten said.

But the younger Alphonza stayed out of trouble. His most serious offense was graffiti writing, for which he had been ticketed three times, Van Doten said.

The neighborhood battles he fought in were the type that involved water balloons and, on Halloween, cartons of eggs.

He submitted to a strict curfew, which his mother enforced with text messages — though that made little difference the evening he died.

“It didn’t even matter,” Van Doten said, “because at the time he got killed, it wasn’t even his curfew yet.”

About 500 people attended Alphonza’s memorial service Saturday, where at one point a large group of mourners gathered in the street and danced to a recording of the young man rapping.

Since then, things have felt different, his friends said.

Jose Castillo, 18, said he can barely sleep, and when he does, Alphonza appears in every dream.

Devante Rayford, 17, keeps thinking Alphonza is on vacation and will return.

And Brayan Fernandez, 17, is not sure how to spend his spare time without Alphonza.

“He was part of our everyday life — wake up, go outside, I’d see him,” Brayan said. “A week ago, I would have never imagined my life without him.”

Meanwhile, Van Doten is preparing to collect Alphonza’s ashes.

In June, the family plans to save an empty seat for Alphonza at the high school commencement at Urban Assembly Bronx Studio for Writers and Artists, where they will accept his diploma.

“Our house — it will never be the same,” Van Doten said. “This is a wound that will never heal.”

Additional reporting by Murray Weiss.

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