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St. Louis Leads America in Child Murders — and It's Getting Worse 

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In the days following Nunu's murder, police charged local eighteen-year-old Jabari Lowery with the killing. According to Houshmand, Lowery mistook Nunu for another teenager with whom he had a beef and Nunu was an innocent bystander. Lowery pleaded not guilty. (In a phone call from jail, Lowery confirmed that Nunu was innocent, but he maintained that he wasn't the killer. His next court date is April 12.)

Inside Houshmand's home four months after the killing, her five-year-old daughter, Jasmine, bounces around the kitchen wearing pink stretch pants and a giggly smile. Jasmine was at the scene of the murder, and her brother's death confused her. During meals, she'd set a plate of food in front of Nunu's empty chair — "We gotta call God and tell him to wake him up." Once, Jasmine summoned Houshmand to the TV, where a video portrayed a scene of a mother crying over a dead son. "Mama, you're on TV," she declared. Houshmand explained to Jasmine that her brother was living with angel wings in Nunuland.

On an afternoon last spring, Houshmand, who is 39, is preparing for a visit from Valarie Dent, the leader of a support group called St. Louis Mothers in Charge, which she founded after her two sons were fatally shot in 2014. Her organization provides outreach to mothers grieving murdered children, found through news reports and law enforcement referrals. She makes house calls to help women communicate with family members; find therapists; manage prosecutors, detectives and court delays; schedule nail-salon appointments; and simply get out of bed. "We can explain there's life after losing a child," she says.

Dent and a co-member, Sharon, arrive at Houshmand's house wearing Black "Mothers in Charge" T-shirts. Dent had prepared a gift bag containing bath sponges and bombs, body wash, foot pads, a scented candle, a resource directory, a journal and a therapeutic eye mask.

"What a cutie!" says Sharon as the women pass around photos of Nunu. When Houshmand begins to cry, Dent sits next to her, hip to hip, and rubs her back. "Your body just goes numb," says Dent, dabbing her own eyes.

The women discuss minute details only they can know: the daytime apparitions; the still-hanging clothes in their sons' bedrooms; the misplaced guilt they put on themselves; the emptiness of holidays; the small, daily reminders of lives lost.

"I could go up to the third floor and still smell Steve's scent," says Dent.

"Oh my God, exactly," says Houshmand, noting that whenever she sees a boy on a bike, she thinks it might be Nunu.

From left: Nunu, Donald and their mother Trina Houshmand - FAMILY PHOTO
  • FAMILY PHOTO
  • From left: Nunu, Donald and their mother Trina Houshmand

As the women chat, Donald appears through the front door. Since his brother's killing, Donald has adopted Nunu's dream of becoming a rapper, hibernating in Nunu's room to scribble lyrics. "When I rap," he says, "I feel like I'm in a box with my brother." His first video, "Not Alone," garnered a million YouTube views in 45 days.

Donald offers to play a couple of his videos for the visitors on the living room TV. "I hold my mama when she cryin'," he raps in "Not Alone." "Some say she trippin', she see visions, Nunu in that kitchen."

Donald composed his second song, "Die Today," specifically for Houshmand, with hopeful lyrics meant to ease his mother's sadness: "Heaven my home, so y'all be strong; ain't gotta cry no more."

And yet, as Donald watches the screen, a tear streams down his own cheek.

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