Battle Lines

Gangs keep their murderous hold on the streets of St. Louis. And kids like Lil' Robert Walker pay the price.

Police consider LaShawn a documented gang member — something that his mother, Shanda Jordan, vigorously denies. She says her son did not commit the killing but knows who did. To date, however, LaShawn has yet to reveal the name. Jordan says he fears retaliation against his family if he offers up the identity of the true gunman and the others involved.

Several years ago Jordan moved to north St. Louis County to get her family away from the gang violence taking place in the Walnut Park and Mark Twain neighborhoods. She doesn't doubt that LaShawn had friends who were part of a gang. "That whole area has gone to the gangs," she says. "You can see the divide when you enter the neighborhood. The Crips are all on the street wearing blue and white, and just a few blocks away all the Bloods are in red. The kids have taken over." Robert's mother, Arthella, takes some comfort in the fact that the police have arrested LaShawn Jordan but wonders why police haven't arrested the others involved in the assault. She understands LaShawn being reluctant to talk. "He's trapped like Robert — between the bullets and the bus," she says. "I don't doubt that if he tells the whole story, his friends will be after him."

Arthella too has left the Walnut Park neighborhood. In recent weeks the St. Louis City Building Division condemned the home where Robert grew up. Arthella has since moved her family to a house in University City that she purchased from her brother. She has no plans of ever moving back to Walnut Park.

"Too many bad memories," she says.

Robert's son, Elijah, is now seven months old and lives with his mother, Courtney O'Donnell, in Ferguson. He's learning to crawl. The sixteen-year-old Courtney met Robert two years ago when her family moved to Walnut Park. "It was love at first sight," she recalls. "We were supposed to grow old together. A week before he died we talked about living together as soon as I turned seventeen — of being a real family."

Courtney is confident that life outside Walnut Park will afford her son more opportunities — and safety — than it did Robert. But she worries about raising Elijah without a father. More than that, she dreads the day she has to tell him how his father died. The horrific afternoon of May 5, meanwhile, still doesn't make sense to her. "It's not like you can say wrong time, wrong place," she says. "He was coming home from school. He was where he was supposed to be. He wasn't doing anything bad."

For police, though, the circumstances of Robert's death is no mystery. Next to the bulletin board, rife with mug shots of dead gang members, is a list of victims for whom the police have no photo. Near the bottom of that list someone has written: "Robert Walker, 49 BAD, 5/5/06."

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