Smiling as wide as any blameless 6-year-old could, Zaamel, the younger brother of a 14-year-old, who was stabbed to death on Sept. 2, eagerly approached the uniformed San Francisco cop.
“Did you catch him yet,” the little boy asked Police Lieutenant Colleen Fatooh, not a block from where his brother Rashawn Williams was fatally attacked the night before.
“Not yet,” Fatooh responded, not unkindly. “But we’re looking.”
It was right around that time on Sept. 3—as friends and family tearfully wrote farewell messages on balloons and poster boards, and as people laid flowers and candles outside the liquor store at 26th and Folsom streets—that San Francisco Police Department spokesman Albie Esparza confirmed police had arrested a juvenile suspected of stabbing Williams.
According to various media reports and family comments, Williams, a football standout who hadn’t yet suited up for his freshman regular football season at Sacred Heart Cathedral, may have been stabbed over a social media feud with a former classmate. Williams’ aunt Helen Morales told El Tecolote that the teenager in custody had been a classmate of Williams since kindergarten.
“It’s a sad day,” said Fatooh, a 29-year SFPD veteran who heads the Youth and Community Engagement Unit out of Garfield Square park. “We knew this young man and his family.”
Williams was at the park with his mother Roxanne and younger siblings when he ventured up the block to the liquor store to buy soda, according to his family. Williams left the store with his two younger brothers at around 6:50 p.m. when he was assaulted and stabbed at least once, according to SFPD spokesman officer Gordon Shyy and Williams’ family.
“Everything happened fast,” said Abdulwahab Alshami, the clerk at the Rubin Market liquor store who remembers selling Williams candy. Alshami, who said two younger, smaller boys accompanied Williams, described seeing two boys waiting for Williams outside the market. He said one of them stabbed Williams.
“He told them, ‘Hey, not now. I’m with my brothers,’” said his aunt Helen.
Shortly after the stabbing, Williams’ mother, who routinely took her kids to the Garfield park after school, drove him to St. Luke’s hospital, Shyy said. But Williams was transferred to San Francisco General Hospital because his injuries were severe enough to require a trauma center. Upon arriving at SF General, Williams was pronounced dead.
Fatooh, who had gotten to know Williams and his family over the last year through frequent interactions in the park, grieved with Williams’ mother at the hospital that Tuesday night.
“I just feel so horrible for her…he had such a promising future,” said Fatooh, whose daughter also attends Sacred Heart. “I felt her pain.”
Many others did. But that pain didn’t stop the flow of flowers, candles and pictures to the corner where Williams was stabbed. Williams’ aunt Ruth Morales added a star quilt from South Dakota to the growing memorial, paying homage to his Lakota roots.
Williams, known by his friends and family as “Shawnito” or “Nito,” was Salvadoran Lenca on his mother’s side and black and Lakota on his father’s side. He attended the bilingual Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 school before being accepted into Sacred Heart. An honor student with a 4.0 GPA and a fluent Spanish speaker, Williams had been a standout in the San Francisco Warriors Football program, and had signed up for his high school’s freshman team. According to his family, he received a $20,000 academic scholarship to Sacred Heart and would routinely tell his mother he was aiming for Harvard University.
This summer, Rashawn—who was known for wearing his hair in a double braid befitting of his native roots—worked a summer job at Leonard R. Flynn Elementary School and still found time to watch his one-year-old sister Zaariah. Days before his funeral, his mother Roxanne braided his hair one last time.
“We’re talking about a real good kid,” said Fred Velasquez, Williams’ former coach with the San Francisco Warriors, who grieved alongside Williams’ family the night of his death. “He grew up in a tough area, beat all the odds [and] got into a good private school that a lot of people couldn’t afford.”
According to Velasquez, Williams had family roots in the former Army Street Projects located along Cesar Chavez Street, across the street from where the stabbing happened. He was known to have spent a lot of time in the area.
“He was one of these kids who knew what he wanted to do in the future,” Velasquez said. “He just wanted to get out of the area and build something for himself.”
At 5-foot-6 and 155-pounds, Williams played running back, strong safety and linebacker in Velasquez’ program.
“He wasn’t that big in stature, but he played a lot bigger than his size,” Velasquez said. “His personality was just real quiet. Always smiling…the main thing that a lot of the coaches and family are going to miss is that big smile.”
Williams, who will be buried next to his Salvadoran grandfather Pedro Morales at Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma on Sept. 11, is survived by his mother Roxanne, father Rashawn, brothers Julius and Zaamel, and baby sister Zaariah, and numerous aunts and uncles.
Those who would like to donate financially can do so at the Rashawn Williams memorial fund at Wellsfargo, at account number 3858364718 and routing number 121042882.
Story by: Alexis Terrazas