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Two grieving mothers try to end cycle of death

Two mothers, two slain sons apiece, and four children left fatherless.

The two killings left more than enough heartbreak to last a lifetime because when the bullets struck, the dead were not the only victims. Parents, siblings and friends also suffered.

But instead of retaliation or silent suffering, these shootings spawned something else. The mothers, despite significant differences in the circumstances surrounding their sons’ deaths, are turning grief into something they hope will save other lives:

Lovette E. Barlow through a scholarship fundraiser on Sunday. Sandra A. Green by talking to groups of young people before they pick up a gun.

Having presided over many funerals for victims of violence, the Rev. Darius G. Pridgen said this is not the first time he has seen families of homicide victims trying to break the cycle of violence.

“Out of grief over these past few years, I’ve seen good things can come from families who desire to see changes for the children who are often left in neighborhoods and communities where there have been homicides,” Pridgen said. “I’ve witnessed everything from scholarships to basketball tournaments to the organization of peace groups.”

Barlow and Green are trying to stem the forces that caused so much bloodshed last year when 62 people were killed, the second-highest homicide count in Buffalo over the past decade. Two of Barlow’s sons – Malik A. Evans and Matthew M. Tucker Jr. – were among the dead last year.

Sunday’s event comes exactly one year after Evans, 19, died Feb. 22, 2014, from complications caused by a gunshot that severed his spine in 2011.

Barlow was devastated again 10 months later when Tucker, her 24-year-old, was fatally shot Dec. 24 as the family came together for Christmas.

She and loved ones will gather from 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday in New Cedar Grove Life Changing Church, 100 Old Maryvale Drive, Cheektowaga, to raise money to start a scholarship in Evans’ name. In January 2016, she says, she will do the same for Tucker.

“This is a way of me taking tragedies and turning them into something positive by helping other children and their families,” Barlow said. “I’ve been depressed since my boys have passed. When people need help of any kind, they come to me. I’m hoping this takes me out of my depression.”

She said she also wants to “bring awareness to violence.”

The revenge factor

The killings of Barlow’s sons offer lessons in how violence begets more violence, and also how one mother is trying to stop that cycle.

The homicide of her younger son has led to a war between rival gangs, and several more killings, police said, explaining that street revenge often exacerbates the violence.

That happens much too frequently, police say.

“We had 32 gang-related homicides and possibly more last year and many times retaliation would be a factor,” Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said.

In what appears to be an extraordinary example of violence breeding more violence, Derenda cited a separate case involving 28-year-old Denell Baker, the 62nd homicide of 2014. Baker was shot on three earlier occasions before the fatal shooting Dec. 28 on Peach Street.

Each time, Baker refused to assist police in finding those responsible for shooting him.

And while Baker was alive, police said, he fatally shot John Wesley, 32, on Oct. 29 on Wende Street. But before police could complete their investigation, Baker was killed.

And soon after Tucker, Barlow’s older son was killed, police cleared another earlier homicide, explaining that Tucker was responsible for a 61-year-old innocent victim in a gang-related shooting.

Gang violence escalates

Barlow’s younger son, Evans, was barely 17 when he and two companions were shot at about 10 p.m. July 9, 2011, as they and other young people entered a party in a hall on Guilford Street near Genesee Street.

“His friends said they saw a Liberty minivan cab coming down the street and a sliding door opened and before they knew it, somebody was shooting out of the van at the crowd. Malik’s back was toward the street and he was shot in the back. It severed his spine. He said it felt like he got electrocuted and he couldn’t get up,” Barlow said.

Over the next 2½ years, his condition gradually worsened and his heart gave out last February, she said.

In the months after Evans died, a street gang used the Internet to post comments about his death displaying an image of a wheelchair and typing in crude remarks.

That did not go unnoticed. Police believe Evans’ friends were so outraged that it eventually sparked a war between rival gangs and more fatal shootings later in the year, significantly contributing to the near-record number of slayings for 2014.

Christmas Eve killing

Barlow’s older son, Tucker, was approached by a gunman at about 9:30 p.m. Christmas Eve in front of the family home on Jones Street. He had gone outside to get his girlfriend’s overnight bag containing her pajamas from her car.

“We were having a pajama Christmas. Money was tight and instead of buying new outfits, everyone was going to wear pajamas. It was something different,” Barlow explained.

Tucker fled toward nearby Klaus Street rather than run back inside the house and risk the gunman killing other family members, she said. Another shooter joined in the chase, and they cornered Tucker in a backyard on Klaus where several shots were fired. The killers escaped in a getaway car driven by a third individual, Barlow said.

Shortly after Tucker was slain, homicide investigators cleared the previously unsolved 2010 killing of the 61-year-old man. Authorities said substantial evidence showed that Tucker, while shooting at a rival gang member on the 1400 block of Main Street near Glenwood Avenue, killed the innocent bystander with a stray bullet.

Barlow said it is hearsay that her son was involved in a killing and objects to him being blamed.

She also believes both her sons were victims. Neither homicide has been solved.

Pridgen, who also is Common Council president, called Barlow’s actions after her sons’ deaths a positive outcome in circumstances that can sometimes spawn more violence.

“She is trying to turn around a very negative and painful situation to help others. To me this is probably one of the best uses of grief. In the past, I have seen grief turn into more homicides,” he said.

Green’s sons

Like Barlow, Green lost both her sons within a year. Both young men were innocent victims, police said.

At the beginning of 2007, 31-year-old Steven E. Barney Jr., accidentally stepped on a teenager’s foot leaving an Atlanta restaurant. The perceived affront cost him his life. Police arrested his killer and he went to prison.

In November 2007, Corey D. Green, 21, rode his bicycle to a Walden Avenue ice cream parlor and was fatally shot outside. No one has been charged in his death.

Green says she continues to write letters and make phone calls to Buffalo’s homicide detectives, urging them to find her younger son’s killer. She and her husband, Wilbert, both retired state corrections officers, are offering a $10,000 reward.

“Stevie’s killer was caught a week after the shooting in Atlanta, and he was sentenced to prison for life, but Corey’s killer was never found. I can’t let it go by the wayside,” Green said. “My theory is time has moved on and people have a tendency to talk more loosely, and I hope that someone with a conscience will come forward with information that will lead to justice for Corey.”

Removing a killer from the streets, she said, also would be a positive outcome and perhaps save other lives.

Corey Green left behind a baby daughter, who is now 8 years old.

His older brother left behind two sons, now 13 and 16.

Parents’ grief lingers

While Green says she wants her younger son’s killer caught, she is not without sympathy for those who caused her so much pain. She and several relatives traveled to Atlanta in November 2007 for the sentencing of her older son’s killer, an 18-year-old, who shot Barney in the chest the night of Jan. 10, 2007, outside a Waffle House.

“No one was there from his family, no friends, at the sentencing, and that was kind of sad,” Green said. “It showed that something had gone wrong in this kid’s life, terribly wrong. Without guidance and structure or anyone to care, he turned into a loose cannon.”

She returned from Atlanta on a Saturday and went back to work the following Monday.

“And that is when my younger son was killed, Nov. 12, 2007,” Green said.

The mother says that she and her husband still feel intense grief over the double loss. When she returned to her job at Wende Correctional Facility, she said it was hard to function with a broken heart.

Green continued to work for two more years before joining her husband in retirement.

“My husband and I go out and speak to groups and tell them there are alternatives to violence and if they take 15 seconds and think about what they are doing, it can mean the difference between life and death.”

Amid all the sorrow, she says, there has been a bright spot: watching and caring for her younger son’s daughter.

“Corey had a daughter. Her name is Treasure. She’ll be 9 in March. She was a year old when her father passed. Now she is our treasure.”

Barlow also watches a grandchild who was born on Tucker’s 24th birthday – Aug. 15.

“Matthew was very excited about that,” Barlow said. “He was excited that his nephew was born on his birthday and they could celebrate together. We’re going to make sure that his nephew knows his uncle by keeping Matthew’s memory alive.”