The Commercial Appeal, Sunday, March 9, 2014
Editor’s note: The Commercial Appeal’s David Waters writes a series of occasional columns under the banner “Children in Peril,” about the imminent danger faced by too many children in the Memphis area.
Samantha Carter looks at the two photos of her nephew and can’t believe it’s the same child.
In the first photo, taken professionally about two years ago, she sees her smiling, baby-faced 11-year-old nephew, Cartrail Robertson.
A “sweetheart” of a kid they called “little minister.” A smart kid whose smart mouth got him in trouble at school, but who was taking himself to church. A quiet kid who left a Bible on his bed the night he went out last month and never came home.
In the second photo, posted recently on Facebook, she sees a 13-year-old boy she barely recognizes, a kid who called himself TrapBoy Trail. He’s a sullen looking kid in a hoodie, staring hard at the camera and holding what appears to be a .357 revolver, the kind of weapon that accidentally discharged early Feb. 25, killing him.
“We have no idea when that transition occurred, or how,” said Carter, 30, a student at Howard University in Washington. “That baby with a gun is not the baby we knew. That child was a sweetheart.”
Cartrail’s family plans to bury him Monday at New Park Cemetery, after a funeral at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, where Cartrail was participating in Bible study and recreation every Wednesday afternoon.
Last week, Carter put her nephew’s smiling, 11-year-old face on a gofundme.com page. She said the family is trying to raise $6,000 to pay for the funeral. Memphis Athletic Ministries, whose coaches had worked with Cartrail, contributed $500 on Friday.
Meanwhile, Cartrail’s brooding, 13-year-old face remains on Facebook.
The two photographs tell an all-too-common Memphis story of Children in Peril: Fatherless boys who wander — or are lured — into a perilous world of guns, violence and conflicted identities.
According to the Shelby County Health Department’s Child Fatality Review Report, published last September, there were 97 child deaths per 100,000 population.
African-American boys die at a disproportionately higher rate, and more frequently in violent deaths, than other children.
“Cartrail was absolutely conflicted about his identity, without a doubt,” said Kenny Stubblefield, director of the Memphis Athletic Ministries at Hamilton Community Center. Cartrail was a regular for years. He was there the day before he died.
“He was a brilliant kid, incredibly observant. Had all the potential in the world. But in the environment he grew up in, with guns and drugs all around, what’s accepted as cool is a gangster kind of violent persona. I don’t think he lived that lifestyle, but he definitely felt a need to present himself that way, especially to his peers.”
Delvin Lane, a fatherless former drug dealer and gang leader, didn’t know Cartrail but he sees kids like him all the time.
“Older guys prey on fatherless boys who are 11, 12, 13,” said Lane, a Community Violence Prevention Supervisor for Mayor A C Wharton’s anti-violence Memphis Gun Down initiative.
“Kids that age are old enough to start wanting some power and control over their lives, but still young enough to be vulnerable and manipulated. Older guys start acting like their daddy, giving them love, attention and protection.”
Carter said Cartrail’s biological father has been in prison for nearly a decade. His mother, Elonda Robertson, just had her 13th child Feb. 22. Cartrail also was missing two of the stronger influences in his life — his grandmother, who moved to Texas in 2010, and his aunt, who hadn’t seen him in two years.
“I stayed in his business as much as I could on the phone,” said Carter, who lives in Washington. “He was heartbroken, missing his father all these years. And I think he was lonely. I think someone out there started acting like his daddy. I think he found a second family that wasn’t good for him.”
Police haven’t said how Cartrail got a gun, or why he had it at a 15-year-old friend’s house. But since Cartrail’s death, emerging details of his life — like the two photos — seem to describe two different kids.
The one his aunt and grandmother talked about this week, the kid who loved video games, wrestling with his brothers, and going to Bible study every Wednesday afternoon at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church.
And the other one whose death was discussed at a Juvenile Court detention hearing Wednesday for 15-year-old Darrin Wilson, who was charged with reckless homicide in Cartrail’s death.
Sweet, 11-year-old Cartrail who “liked” the Bible and the ABC Family Channel on his Facebook page. That kid knew better than to have guns or be around anyone who did, his family said.
“He was raised better than that,” said his grandmother, Laura Davis Ibitoye. “He didn’t learn that at home. Someone else must have made him put that gun in his hand.”
However it happened, sullen, 13-year-old TrapBoy Trail brought two guns and a plastic bag with crack cocaine to Wilson’s house early on Feb. 25, attorney Michael Scholl told the court.
One of the guns was a Taurus .357 revolver, the same sort of weapon he posed with on Facebook.
“We didn’t even know he had a Facebook page,” Carter said. “Those photos were a shock to all of us.”
Lane isn’t surprised. He said he felt like he was living two lives when he started dealing drugs at age 11. There was the kid he was at home, a “Mama’s boy” who went to school, got good grades tried to behave. Then there was the kid he felt he had to be out in the world, a tough, street kid who could protect himself and his mama from predators.
“My mama knew nothing about that kid for a long time,” Lane said.
Cartrail’s mother, Elonda Robertson said she was too distraught to talk about her son. But Cartrail’s grandmother said her daughter was doing all she could.
“His mother is a good mother,” said Ibitioye, who ran for Memphis mayor in 2007 as Laura Davis Aaron. “She works at the Marriott. She works hard to do her best for those children. But she can’t be with them all the time. They get pulled into other lives.”
Police and prosecutors are trying to determine whose lives Cartrail got pulled into, and how a 13-year-old who most recently attended Hamilton, Hume and Treadwell middle schools got a gun.
Cartrail’s aunt knows it’s not that difficult. She said that years ago, when she was a sixth-grader at Treadwell, a fellow sixth-grader, a friend, sneaked up behind her and held a handgun to her back.
“He said there was not a bullet in the gun and then he looked and saw that there was,” Carter said. “This has always been a problem. There’s a root that needs to be pulled out. No kid should have a gun.”
Or feel like he needs one.