An elementary school in the Greater Toronto Area became the makeshift mourning site for the family of a dead nine-year-old on Sunday.
Expressions of grief scrawled in magic marker wallpapered the hallway of Sir Winston Churchill Public School, just down the street from where Kesean Williams, a Grade 4 student, was hit in the head by a bullet that pierced his living-room window Wednesday night. He died the next morning in hospital. Police say the shooting in the low-income neighbourhood in Brampton was targeted, but Kesean wasn't the intended victim.
Locals have described it as a tough area. Ted Brown, the executive director of community outreach group Regeneration, addressed the neighbourhood's reputation during a prayer at a public memorial Sunday afternoon.
"Lord, we bring this community to you today not as a community some people describe as a horrible community but, Lord, it's a community that you deeply love and have a plan for," he said.
After the emotional memorial, the boy's extended family retreated to the elementary school. Standing in the sombre fluorescent-lit hallway, they exchanged hugs and teared up while studying enlarged photo prints of young Kesean posing with his older brother or smirking on school-picture day.
"If Tanya [Kesean's mother] was here, she'd be on the floor. She'd have to be carried off to the hospital," said godmother Veronica Kelly, who has been friends with the boy's mother since she was eight years old. While both of Kesean's grandmothers as well as his great-grandmother attended the public memorial and private gathering at the school, the boy's mother and 15-year-old brother, Kajan, grieved at home.
"[My daughter] is a wreck. My grandson is worse," said Joan Garvey, Kesean's maternal grandmother. "He's not eaten. He's not sleeping well. If I walked there right now and he sees me, he'd just start crying. Breaking down."
Ms. Garvey described Kesean as a boy who flirted with independence – insisting his grandmother drop him off in the school's parking lot instead of walking him right to the door – but still loved being coddled.
"He loved shrimps and I have to cook it a certain way or else he won't eat it. He has to have his mashed potatoes, and his broccoli and I have to sit beside him and feed him half the way. He has to use me in some way and I loved him for that," she said. "And when it's tub time, he loved to jump on my back and I'd take him into the bathroom, strip him down, put him in the tub."
When Kesean, his mother and brother lived in Hamilton, Ms. Garvey said she'd travel up from her home in New York to visit almost every week. The visits fell back to once a month after the family relocated to Brampton less than five months ago.
"My daughter just said she needed a change. This is what change brings," she said.
When asked if the move to Brampton was good for the family, Ms. Kelly said, "That I can't answer," but said she was touched by how her godson had so quickly integrated in his new city, as evidenced by the neighbours who attended the community memorial and the earnest cards from classmates posted in the school's hallway.
One, written in purple marker, said, "Dear Kesean, Sometimes you might have made fun of me at times but you will always keep me going. P.S. I hope you have the best afterlife you can. P.P.S. You will always be in my heart."
"Kesean may have lived nine years but it's like he lived 80-something years because of the life he had inside him," Ms. Kelly said.
She recalls a recent meal out with Tanya and Kesean at a bed and breakfast: "I remember him pouring ketchup over everything ... it was eggs and I think French toast and there were probably some sausages in there. And there was just this big smile on his face. It was beautiful."
At the public memorial service, a group of crying preteen girls huddled by a large pile of stuffed animals under a sign that said, "RIP Kesean Heavens Newest Angel." Neighbours held their children close. Amid the grief, community members shared hopes that Kesean's killer is caught.
"I want to make it clear to the culprit or to the perpetrator that have done this to this young child: You did not commit this crime against this child and his family. You did commit the crime against this community," David Green, a trustee with the Peel District School Board, said to the crowd at the memorial. "We will ensure that you are brought to justice."
One student's message to Kesean – printed in pencil and posted in the school hallway – expressed the same: "Hope they find the criminals and give him a punishment all criminals will not forget."