God and community help grandmother grieving over death of boy she raised

January 10, 1999|By GREGORY KANE

QUEEN TYNES-MURRAY walked into East Baltimore's Highway to Heaven Apostolic Faith Church on Tuesday, looking resplendently Afrocentric in her dreadlocks that cascaded below her shoulders, orange robe with black designs, red, black and green earrings and Kufi-like orange hat.

But she wasn't there for a coronation. She was there, two hours early, for a home-going celebration. She was there to talk about her "baby" -- 16-year-old James Darnell Oakley -- the grandson she had cherished all these years. In two hours, she would celebrate his going home. The next day, she would bury him.

"That boy," she said, sitting in a rear pew of the church, "that boy saved my life." Tynes-Murray was thinking of years ago, when she got home from the hospital after undergoing surgery for cancer. Tynes-Murray said she wouldn't eat. But James wasn't having it.

"James made me a bowl of Cream of Wheat," Tynes-Murray recalled. "It was the worst Cream of Wheat I ever ate. And muddy coffee. He made me a cup of muddy coffee. I got up out of that bed and taught him how to cook."

James' life ended in the early hours of Dec. 29. He was sitting in front of a house on Dundalk Avenue with another boy. It was just a half-hour past midnight. At least two men, possibly three, according to Baltimore County police, drove up in a dark-colored van. County police Cpl. Vickie Warehime says witnesses heard James and the other youth exchange heated words with two men in the van. At least one of the latter fired several shots, leaving James dead and the other boy wounded. Two men, Panagoitis Skordalos and Adam Hammond, are charged in the shootings and being held without bail in the Baltimore County Detention Center.

That's the official police version of the tragic ending of James Darnell Oakley's life. We wrote two short items on it in our paper. But Tynes-Murray sat in that church Tuesday and spoke of a boy whose life warranted much more than a short item.

"The day he was killed, he was going with me to pick out a house," Tynes-Murray remembered. It wasn't a house for them -- Tynes-Murray, James or any of his siblings and cousins who lived on Port Street in East Baltimore -- but one Tynes-Murray wanted to open "to help troubled kids -- kids with addicted parents and abused kids."

Tynes-Murray was still reminiscing when James' coffin arrived from the Vaughn Greene Funeral Home. By this time, two of James' teachers from Fairmount-Harford High School -- Katherine Harris and June King -- had come in. They were soon joined by Joe Leonard, one of the school's assistant principals.

"James was no saint," Tynes-Murray had said before they came in, "but he was a good boy." Seated just two pews in front of Tynes-Murray, the teachers repeated almost verbatim what James' grandmother had said.

Tynes-Murray didn't have to say James was a good boy. His teachers and administrators at Fairmount-Harford were saying it for her.

"He was such a nice kid," King said of James. "He was one of my favorite students. You could tell he wanted to learn by the questions he asked."

Elaine White, Fairmount-Harford's principal, came in to view James' body. She handed Tynes-Murray a statement from the school's staff and directed students to the boy's family.

James was a sophomore with an interest in commercial art, a success roll student with an 80 average, the statement read. But the hug White gave Tynes-Murray -- and the tears in the principal's eyes -- said much more than the statement. Harris and King also wept.

"I thank God I'm not angry and have no vengeance," Tynes- Murray said. She has relied on God to help her through this ordeal. But community folks have helped. Bea Gaddy fed her after Tynes-Murray had to use her rent and phone money -- added with donations from others -- to make a partial payment on the funeral expenses. But she still owes Greene $2,200. Greene went through with the services in the hopes that Tynes-Murray's family, friends and community would somehow come up with the money.

And there's no reason the community can't. The Baltimore men who went on the 1995 Million Man March did so, they say, in the spirit of atonement for causing black women pain. One of their sisters is now in pain, in desperate need of money to bury a grandson who died all too young. Baltimore's men who spoke with their feet in 1995 now have a chance to speak with their wallets.

Pub Date: 1/10/99

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