Kin: Slain boy not killer's target

Posted: July 07, 2007

The 12-year-old Camden boy who died in a hail of gunfire with $500 in his pockets may not have been his killer's intended target, relatives said yesterday.

Martin "Pee Wee" Coleman, a fifth grader whom police described as living by himself on the crime-plagued city streets, may have died because he was sitting in the back seat of an Oldsmobile that belonged to the person the gunman wanted to kill, said the boy's mother and grandmother.

"Pee Wee was just looking for family," said his grandmother, Jackie Coleman, as she greeted mourners near a makeshift memorial of stuffed animals, balloons, and empty malt liquor bottles a few yards from where the boy's life ended shortly after 11 p.m. on the Fourth of July.

A man gave the keys to the 1994 Oldsmobile to Pee Wee and his friends last week, Jackie Coleman said, and the boys had been using it to stay out of Wednesday night's rain and listen to the radio. That man, Jackie Coleman believes, was the killer's target.

"They shot Pee Wee looking for him," Jackie Coleman said.

Police said the theory could be correct. But many questions about the boy's slaying were unresolved, detectives said. Even the car's ownership wasn't clear.

Pee Wee and his young friends around the Branch Village housing project had used the car as a clubhouse for less than a week, police said. Neighbors said the boy had slept in the car for several nights.

On the night he was killed, Pee Wee and two friends were in the car when a gunman wielding a powerful assault rifle riddled the car with two dozen rounds.

The friends - including a boy who Jackie Coleman said she believes was wounded - ran off and hid, thinking they might also be marked for execution. A Domino's Pizza driver arrived just after the shooting, said a Domino's manager.

A neighbor found Pee Wee's lifeless body in the car with bullet wounds to the head and left leg.

The boy's relatives yesterday denied that he was selling drugs. But his mother and grandmother acknowledged that the youngster, who was enrolled at Wiggins Elementary, had been slipping away from family and was frequently on the streets.

Police said they had cautioned Pee Wee about drug dealing about a month ago, when he was still 11, but did not arrest him.

His mother, Loresha Gaines, 28, said she had warned the boy to stay away from other boys in the neighborhood, some of whom she said were drug dealers.

"But, Mommy, they're my friends," she said he told her.

Gaines tearfully said she believed her son was with his grandmother the night he was killed. The grandmother said she believed the boy was with his mother.

Gaines explained the $500 found in the boy's pockets as his grandmother's cookie jar savings, money that he took to buy a gift for her birthday, which was yesterday.

"He wasn't selling drugs," said Gaines. "I stayed on Pee Wee to go right and talk respectful."

Gaines said her relationship with the boy worsened several years ago when his father was jailed. Pee Wee frequently missed school, she said, and stayed away from home - especially after she moved from the housing project to a more "respectable" neighborhood.

Pee Wee, she said, did not want to leave his Branch Village friends.

Authorities said they also continued to press the investigation into Thursday's murder of Saad Brittingham, 17, who was gunned down as he rode a motor scooter on Morgan Avenue.

Brittingham and Pee Wee had grown up in the same housing project, though Brittingham's family moved several years ago.

Police yesterday said they were unsure whether the killings were linked.

"We have leads in both cases that are being aggressively investigated," said Bill Shralow, spokesman for the Camden County Prosecutor's Office. "We remain hopeful that we'll be able to identify the perpetrators of these horrible events."

A memorial to Brittingham arose yesterday, less than 10 yards from Pee Wee's.

Jackie Coleman pointed to the Brittingham shrine and said she had heard that Brittingham was killed because he had laughed at her grandson's memorial.

Investigators said they couldn't confirm the grandmother's theory.


Contact staff writer Dwight Ott at 856-779-3844 or dott@phillynews.com.

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