Remembering a son slain on the street

A Brooklyn family recalls singer who loved to perform

March 01, 2007|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,sun reporter

Rickie Tinsley's mother held onto a wooden pew inside a Brooklyn church and tried to explain how she carries on - looking after her two other sons, checking in with police and organizing a vigil last night to mark the six-month anniversary of his killing.

"It's so rough," said 50-year-old Valerie Hill, Tinsley's mother. "When they killed Rickie, they killed a part of his mother, his father, his brothers. The world as we know it, it's not the same anymore. My heart hasn't completely connected with reality."

Tinsley, 21, was shot to death in August as he rode a bike on Brooklyn's Pontiac Avenue. No arrest has been made in the case. Tinsley, who had no criminal record and was praised as a mentor to youngsters in the community, was apparently an innocent victim.

"The word on the street was it was meant for someone else. It wasn't meant for Rickie," his mother said. "So you hear a lot of things. We still keep in close contact with the police. They said they don't have a motive."

Tinsley's parents, brothers, three of his friends and his last boss gathered last night at Brooklyn United Methodist Church to remember him by lighting candles and reminiscing about the young man they called a talented singer who loved to perform gospel and R&B songs.

Tinsley was a young father. His son, Rico Georell Tinsley, was 4 months old at the time of the killing. Tinsley planned to marry the baby's mother, his family said. He was described as a skilled basketball player and proud of his muscular frame, which he perfected by hours of weightlifting. Almost always guaranteed to win, he was the preferred partner among his friends for card games.

After graduating from Walbrook High School in 2004, he and a brother, Thomas Tinsley, 20, began classes at the Catonsville campus of the Community College of Baltimore County. But after their mother had hip-replacement surgery and needed someone to look after her, both stopped going to school.

Rickie Tinsley started working for the Downtown Partnership, picking up trash and eventually becoming a guide for city tourists.

"He was one of the people that beat the odds," said Jennifer Rosenthal, program director for the Chesapeake Center for Youth Development's after-school program, which Tinsley attended for five years. "He took a lot of pride in [working for the Downtown Partnership]. He really enjoyed that because for him, it was about doing something that had meaning. In the midst of violence, in the midst of so many kids making poor choices, he continued to be someone who had goals and excelled."

Last summer, he worked at Chesapeake Center as a driver. After his death, word came that he was about to have been hired as a forklift operator - an opportunity Tinsley would have relished, his family said.

Yesterday, Thomas Tinsley, who acknowledged that he has tangled with the law in the past, started a new job transporting cars. He said his brother warned him of the perils of street life.

"This made me change a lot about myself," Thomas Tinsley said. "I don't look at nothing the same way anymore. I used to be out there selling cocaine. I left all that stuff alone."

Rickie Tinsley Sr., 47, bowed his head as his youngest son, Terrell Tinsley, 13, spoke.

"Being Rickie's little brother was a good time," Terrell said. "Rickie, he always taught me it's not good being on the streets trying to fit in with everybody."

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

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