Crime rises in the summer, and according to statistics released by the Providence police department, in July of last year the area with the highest crime in the city was the North End, Smith Hill, and Elmhurst area. These neighborhoods do include the historically high-crime areas, but the most violent crime last summer happened in what is considered a quiet neighborhood.
As part of our series, Hot City: Crime in Providence, Rhode Island Public Radio’s John Bender revisits a triple homicide that occurred exactly one year ago today, with the portrait of one family's loss.
The sun is setting, it’s late afternoon in mid-July, in a small neighborhood in Providence’s North End. A soft breeze moves in, bringing relief to a hot July day. Kids play on swings. Residents walk their dogs.
One year ago, on July 30, it was quiet, but after nightfall shots rang out from an apartment on the corner. Inside the first floor apartment of 151 General Street, police say two teens shot Shemeeka Barros age 22, Michael Martin age 23, and Damien Colon age 22.
“It was just a normal day, you know. He got up went to work, he worked two jobs. He went to work at Stop and Shop, came home about two in the afternoon,” said Damien Colon’s mother Elizabeth.
She said she has been reliving each day of last July over and over in the weeks leading up to her eldest son’s death. She remembers the day vividly.
“I was out of work already, my husband had already left for work. He came in, took a shower, changed. A friend of ours, family member, stopped by, dropped off a baby shower invitation. Saw them for a couple minutes. They left. He got dressed, and went to his second job from 5 to 9.”
Damien had also been working as a telemarketer since he came home from college. She saw him when he came home from work again that night.
“He was supposed to go hang out with his younger brother Sam, who was seventeen. He brought his xbox down, was waiting for him and he was like I’m going to go up the street, I’m gonna go see Mike, I’ll be back in a few, wait for me; I should be back in like an hour. And he left, he left the house at five past ten, and he was dead by ten thirty,” said Colon
“There are three victims in this, there’s a young couple Shemeeka Barros, and she was living in the apartment with her boyfriend Mike Martin,” said Amanda Milkovits, a reporter for the Providence Journal. “Their friend Damien Colon, who they knew from the Met School, and lived just around the corner, had dropped by. At around 10:20 some neighbors saw Michael Martin talking to two young men, and the three of them went inside and shortly after that they heard gunfire.”
News of the triple murder surprised Milkovits, who’s covered crime in Rhode Island for 13 years.
“I know my way around a lot of the neighborhoods where things happen, this was not, this was barely on my radar,” said Milkovits. “It’s just a neighborhood of decent people.”
It was those people who were the first to arrive at the scene.
“The neighbors ran over, the two young men fled, and they found the bodies, of Damien Colon and Michael Martin had collapsed near the refrigerator in the kitchen. And Shemeeka Barros had been shot multiple times where she was lying on the couch, with one final blow to the head,” said Milkovits.
All of this happened before eleven o’clock at night; Damien Colon’s parents woke up to a knock at the door at 3:30 in the morning. His mother Elizabeth opened the door to find the police
“And so I yelled to my husband ‘it’s the police.’ My husband works for the city of Providence so he knows a lot of the police, he takes care of fourteen buildings in the city. So he comes flying down the stairs, and one of the detectives looks at him and said oh no George, not you.”
Then things became a blur, she started getting dressed, and saying Damien’s name, as the police tried to calm her down.
“He was like no just sit down, calm down, and my husband was like sit down you need to listen to them. And I was like you need to take me to see him, I need to see him right now and he said I’m sorry he’s deceased, and that was it,” said Colon.
Over the next several weeks the families of the three victims were able to get some answers. The Providence Journal’s Amanda Milkovits said in all four suspects were arrested in what was what started as a drug theft.
“In about a week they had arrested, what turned out to be two sixteen year-old boys, and now they’ve also charged two men, one of whom has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing, and the second one is already in jail for shooting another man, and he’s been sentenced to fifty years in prison on that crime,” said Milkovits.
According to bail hearings, Michael Martin was selling small amounts of marijuana. It seemed he had drugs and money, so he was a target.
“So the two 16 year-old boys allegedly went armed intending to rob him, and what one of them later told police was that Mike Martin appeared to make a move and they thought he was going for a gun, and there was no gun, and they just shot them all, and that was it,” said Milkovits.
The two older men allegedly orchestrated the robbery. Despite being only being 16 at the time the two boys who committed the crime are being tried as adults. That trial is scheduled to begin in October.
Even if justice is served Elizabeth worries about how her son and his friends will be remembered.
“They lump these kids into this bigger picture of all the murders and all the violence and all the trouble, and like how it was gang retaliation, and it had nothing to do with that. Nothing at all, and yet, Damien and Shemeeka, and Mike still get lumped into the statistic,” said Colon.
Of course, for Elizabeth, Damien will never be a statistic.
She and her husband she still live only a few streets away from 151 General Street, but she takes the long way to work, so she doesn’t need to drive by the apartment where her son and two of his friends lost their lives.
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