Wrestling with tragedy

Kevan Fletcher lay dead. Accused of the senseless crime, two friends could lose more than honor -- their freedom.

Friends, family left to wrestle with teen's senseless killing

April 13, 2002|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Kevan Fletcher was friendly with his killers.

When they knocked on his door one evening last month, he let them in. Kevan was so comfortable with his visitors that he did not bother to change his clothes -- he was wearing only boxer shorts and a sweatshirt -- and put rap music on his stereo and turned up the volume at their request.

Then, with rap lyrics pulsating throughout the house, Kevan was shot three times in the head.

The murder of the star Patterson High School wrestler was clearly an execution, police say -- nothing was missing from the well-kept house and nothing was out of place, except for the boy's body lying on the living room floor. Homicide detectives immediately guessed that the vicious killing was likely motivated by concerns deeper than drugs or money.

What would surprise them -- and Kevan's family members -- was not just that the suspects were his teen-aged friends. It was that their motives seemed so trivial: One felt bullied; the other, disrespected.

Yet violence of this kind is not uncommon in many of Baltimore's neighborhoods, where a culture of retaliation flourishes: You cannot appear weak, or let a challenge go unanswered.

At Kevan's funeral, the Rev. Reginald L. Kennedy addressed those themes, talking about how young men and women seem more concerned about how they are viewed in the world than how they see themselves. He spoke about how gaining respect from neighborhood friends has become more important than finding God.

"They do not know how to resolve, save face or gain respect of their peers if they feel another peer has disrespected them," Kennedy said later in an interview. "They are resorting to chaotic and barbaric means of resolving conflict. Their status -- what they drive, what they wear, who they are with -- gives them all their values."

Kevan Fletcher was the city's second-best wrestler in the 152-pound weight class last season. A junior at Patterson High, he also was a decent student. He talked about wrestling in college. He dreamed of being a professional rapper.

He spent much of his time at his house, talking on the telephone to girlfriends, watching television, listening to rap music, especially that of Tupac Shakur, whom he considered the best rapper to ever live. He spent hours writing his own lyrics.

In school notebooks, he practiced writing lyrics, raps filled with rough language describing guns, drugs, alcohol, women and neighborhood respect.

"You can play like a chicken, if you wanna get pluck," read the lyrics of one song written in one of his composition books. "... When times was rough, when it comes to beef, it's real, so I callin your bluff."

Friends say Kevan's lyrics struck a chord with them.

"He rapped the truth," said Leroy Taylor, 15. "He rapped the streets."

The tough language of his raps also fit his personality. He could be rough on the edges, push people past their limits. Though short and wiry, Kevan never backed down from a challenge -- he was fearless, a trait many say you need to survive in East Baltimore.

"If he was pushed, he'd get tough," said his sister, Teonya Castle, 24. "He didn't take anything from anybody."

Hundreds of people -- friends from the neighborhood, school, relatives, fellow wrestlers -- attended his funeral last month at Gospel Tabernacle Baptist Church, a church Kevan had joined several months ago on his own and attended sporadically.

Young girls in the congregation wore "R.I.P. KEV" headbands. Wrestling teammates sat together. Boys from the neighborhood wore T-shirts that had a photograph of Kevan at age 10 on the front and a more recent photograph on the back surrounded by the words: "The Good Die Young."

After the funeral, family and friends gathered at Kevan's home on Orleans Street. About 100 lighted candles. One by one, people stood on a stoop near a makeshift memorial of balloons, stuffed animals and small notes nailed to a tree. They talked about Kevan's death, the senselessness of it, why they liked and loved him. All were trying to make sense of what happened.

Kevan's brother, Donald Castle, was among those who climbed the steps. Castle, 20, wore sunglasses even though darkness had long settled on the street. He railed against killing, told people not to retaliate. He nearly cried when he spoke about missing his little brother.

"Remember my man, yo!" he yelled. "Never forget, yo. He was killed for nothing, yo."

The 18-year-old

Michael Lowe is 18, four years older than the other teen-ager charged in Kevan's death. In 1998, says his mother, Clarice Lowe, he suffered a devastating loss. His father died of sclerosis of the liver.

The boy and father hung out together, mostly during the summers, playing sports, watching television, especially football games. They often fished together -- his father's favorite pastime. "They were like twins," Clarice Lowe, 42, said in an interview with The Sun.

After his father's death, Michael spent hours alone in his basement room, watching the video made of his father's funeral.

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