Family members and neighbors gathered at the Walker household in Syracuse's South Side tonight to celebrate what should have been Rashaad Walker Jr.'s fifth birthday.
In November of 2010 police responded to a horrific scene: a bullet-riddled minivan and a slain toddler. In the midst of a feud between rival gangs, police say shots intended for Rashaad Walker Senior struck his son instead. The 20-month-old baby boy was shot in his child seat.
Syracuse police have come a long way since 2010 to crack down on gang violence, but council member Khalid Bey believes there is still work to be done.
"We need to continue to spread the message that this kind of thing is not tolerated and shouldn't be tolerated. We need to continue to better our community," Bey said from the vigil held on Rashaad Jr.'s front lawn today. "Even for those who might unfortunately be involved in this kind of activity, we have to find ways to change their thinking and to get them to do things that are a bit more progressive."
Though Rashaad Jr. never had a chance to grow up with the numerous children who gathered at the Walker household tonight, family members hope that Rashaad's story will be a positive influence on the generation he should have been a part of. Rashaad Jr.'s aunt, Liasia Walker, hopes to start a scholarship fund in his name.
"Every kid deserves to live his life," Walker said through tears today. "He would have been five. He would have been ready for kindergarten."