By Lindsay Toler
By Chad Garrison
By Brett Koshkin
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Riverfront Times
By Danny Wicentowski
By Pete Kotz
Phelps recognized Leong, who regularly patrolled the neighborhood.
"I looked and saw Leong, and I said, "You're the same bitch that's been messing with him for the longest.' And she didn't even say anything. She just had a funny look on her face. To me, it was like she couldn't believe Min had just shot him or whatever."
Looking at his girlfriend, Ruffin said, "I love you, Nicole."
He died seven hours later. He was 22 years old.
Jerome Ruffin was always on the large side. He weighed 8 pounds, 9 ounces when he was born in St. Louis on Oct. 29, 1976.
Ruffin's parents never married. Jerome was Monyuette Oats' only son. She raised him on welfare. Looking back, she sees herself as overly strict, the kind of mom who didn't hesitate to spank for a messy room or a wet bed. She called him "Man Man.'
"He was my only boy," Oats says. "I would hold his hand at the age of 14 going across the street. He would say, "Mom, don't do that.'"
He never was one for having his picture taken his mother has only four photographs. He was shy. The Rev. Alfred Brown, a family friend, remembers him as something of a loner. His father, an Air Force man who moved to St. Louis permanently when his son was in high school, says he once worried that his son was introverted.
"He was the kind of person who liked to stay to himself," Jerome Ruffin Sr. says. "He had a quiet way about him."
His mother says she tried to get her son to talk about things that troubled him. She usually wasn't successful. "He would hold stuff in instead of bringing it out," Oats says. "Always, I would talk to him "Stop holding it in, bring it out.' He was very independent."
For the most part, Jerome's father wasn't around while his son grew up. When he was about 7, Jerome spent a summer with his father in Joliet, Ill. "I came once a year to visit him, and he came up every spring break to visit me," the elder Ruffin says.
Friends and relatives say Ruffin wasn't a rebel. "He was a very obedient son," says Charmaine Frazier, a friend of Ruffin's mother. "When you saw him, he was sweet. He was,' Yes ma'am, no ma'am.' I've never heard him talk back to anyone. I've never heard him raise his voice to anyone."
His mother says her son was a good boy. "I'm not saying that because he's mine," Oats said. "Anybody that know him, he had respect for elders. He wouldn't let his friends curse in front of me. He never cursed in front of me at all, period. He was very respectful. He would say, "My mom is no joke.'"
Jerome's education began at the Head Start program at Marshall Elementary School when he was about 4 years old. He lived on the South Side with his mother until fifth grade, when she moved out of the city to St. Ann. Better schools. Less chance for trouble, she thought.
"I didn't want him to be around that neighborhood," she says. "I wanted him to go out to the county."
But Jerome was already knotted to a poor part of the South Side, where Iretha Pampkin, his paternal grandmother, lived in a house on Flad, just a few blocks east of Grand and two blocks from where he was shot. He spent weekends and summer vacations there, playing basketball, riding bicycles and occasionally taking a trip to the Art Museum with his grandmother and her five other grandchildren.
"He practically spent his life here," Pampkin says.
Pampkin didn't run an overly strict house. Jerome and her other five grandchildren were assigned chores emptying the garbage, washing dishes, tending the yard. Jerome was pretty good about doing his, she recalls. Curfew came at 10:30 p.m. "I didn't let them run the streets," Pampkin says. "Sometimes he was in on time; sometimes I had to go out looking for him."
He wasn't a perfect child. One of his first run-ins with the law came when he was about 9. The police caught him and a younger cousin stealing hood ornaments from cars outside a church. No charges were pressed, but Pampkin wanted consequences. So she spoke with the pastor and arranged for Jerome and his cousin to mow the church lawn and clean the building for the remainder of the summer.
"They didn't like it, of course, but they did it," Pampkin says.
Any early enthusiasm for school had dulled by the time Ruffin reached Ritenour High School. His grades dropped. Ruffin's relatives hint at problems but say they can't recall specifics. Oats declined to make her son's school records available.
"He was OK in school," she recalls. "Everybody gets suspended every now and then."
Ruffin dropped out in the 11th grade. "He did well in school in the earlier years, and the later years he didn't do well," Pampkin says. "It wasn't that he didn't have the ability. He didn't discipline himself."
By the time Ruffin dropped out, his father, done with the Air Force, had returned to St. Louis and moved into his mother's house on Flad. Ruffin, who had been living with his mother in St. Ann, wanted to live closer to his friends and asked whether he could live with his father and grandmother. His mother didn't like the idea.