Too many mothers have stood where April Roberts-Gilbert found herself Sunday night.
She’s another mother making burial plans for a child who fell victim to violence. She’s another mother speaking before a crowd at a candlelight vigil.
For the Akron mother of five, death has touched her life, just as it has so many others here and across urban America.
Her 24-year-old son, Ronald Roberts, was one of four young adults shot and killed execution style inside a Kimlyn Circle townhouse Thursday. Roberts-Gilbert spoke from near the stoop of the same townhouse as a crowd swelled toward 200. Cars filled the complex parking lot and lined up along Independence Avenue. A strong police presence was visible to offset any return of violence.
Roberts-Gilbert, 45, implored the young men and women listening to her speak to make a change before another vigil is held and another mother takes the stage.
“Who is going to stand up and make this change?” she said, fighting back the tears that followed her into the throng. “It’s time. Let’s get it together. Unity. That’s what I want.
“My baby was 24 and I got to bury him. Stop it ... You’re killing each other. That’s what they want you to do. ... You gotta think. Think. Think. It ain’t worth it.”
Before she finished speaking, Roberts-Gilbert pleaded for witnesses to come forward. Pointing to the clustered townhouses with connecting walls, she questioned how no one heard anything during a shooting that likely happened in the late morning or early afternoon.
She begged anyone with information on the killer to come forward.
“That don’t take no hero,” Roberts-Gilbert told the audience.
Each of the victims — Ronald Roberts, Kem Delaney, 23, Maria Nash, 19, and Kiana Welch, 19 — were each shot multiple times in the head. Their bodies were found in the basement of a townhouse leased by Roberts’ sister.
Akron police have yet to identify a suspect or a motive for the slaying, considered one of the city’s most deadly mass killings in the past three decades.
The Rev. Erick S. Hunt of the Peoples Baptist Church in Akron led the crowd in prayer. He, too, called for action against the violence that has rocked the community with 10 homicides and a spate of shootings in recent weeks.
“The streets have changed,” Hunt said. “We need more doctors. More judges. We have to come together. We need a lot of love. In the future, this could be any one of us. Who’s going to be next? Or are you going to stop this?”
Damion Jones, 46, of Akron, was the uncle of Delaney. He said his nephew and Ronald Roberts had been friends since they were 4 years old. Roberts was dating Welch, who grew up in Cleveland. Delaney was dating Nash, who lived in Akron and graduated from Garfield High.
Jones said Delaney’s mother, Hazel Jones, was one of several relatives of the victims who came to the complex Thursday to learn of the deaths through police officers. Jones said his sister is struggling with the loss and could not attend the vigil. They are going together Monday to make funeral arrangements.
“The vigil’s about showing respect,” Jones said. “My sister’s feeling bad vibes, so she doesn’t want to come. Some people are still scared.”
Family members speculated that robbery may have been the motive of the killing. Still, they acknowledged that rumors are rampant in the neighborhood and on social media.
The vigil drew representatives from the local NAACP, the Stop the Violence Akron Movement and Summit County Councilman Frank Comunale.
Darrita Davis, president of the Stop the Violence group, urged the crowd to push for a gun buy-back program that Akron leaders are resisting. She also urged those with information to contact police.
Comunale, who has ties to the area, said he came out of respect for the four families.
“These are four families that will never be the same,” he said. “It’s just a senseless act.”
Darian Johnson of the NAACP said he was there to plead for witnesses to come forward and for the community to rally around the victims.
“We are sick and tired of these crimes,” he said. “The killings and the shootings have got to stop. And it won’t happen until we come together.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact Akron police at 330-375-2490. Anonymous tips for this or any crime may be left at http://ci.akron.oh.us/ASP/tip.html.
Information may also be provided anonymously by calling Summit County Crimestoppers at 330-434-COPS(2677). Tipsters may qualify for a cash reward.
Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or firstname.lastname@example.org.