Single mother struggles with son's killing

Zakiyyah Anderson in Camden with daughters Nashaya, 15, (left) and Shahada, 10.
Zakiyyah Anderson in Camden with daughters Nashaya, 15, (left) and Shahada, 10. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 03, 2013

The day after her 20-year-old son was fatally shot, Zakiyyah Anderson stood shivering in the rain in downtown Camden, texting her son's father.

"craig i dont want to live nomore," she wrote.

Cars passed as she waited on the curb for an answer. Rain had driven away summer's warmth.

"No baby," he wrote back.

"i sorry i can not live tjought this," she responded.

Then she stepped into the street in front of a bus. It stopped just short of hitting her.

Anderson's son, known as Zakee, had been on the run, wanted by authorities on charges in connection with the accidental shooting of his 12-year-old brother, Ash-Shams, known as "Ibn."

On May 10, one of Ibn's friends had found a stolen gun police say Zakee left in the brothers' bedroom in the family home in South Camden. A shot fired sent a bullet into the right side of Ibn's face and out the other. It missed Ibn's brain by four or five millimeters, his surgeon said.

Twelve weeks later, as the family still marveled over Ibn's recovery, Zakee died after being shot multiple times July 31 at the Branch Village Apartments in what police suspect was a drug-related crime. The investigation continues.

The two shootings have left family members reeling. The killing weighs on the single mother and her three children as they push to complete their educations and work their way out of Camden.

After the bus drove on that summer day, Zakiyyah also walked in front of a car. It, too, missed her.

"At the moment, I was like, 'God, why couldn't this bus just hit me? Why couldn't this car just hit me? So I could be dead and laying dead with my child,' " the 36-year-old Newark native said.

Maybe it wasn't her time, she thought.

"But why God still have me here? I mean, he took my child," she said. "I felt like I had no purpose . . . I thought my life was over."

A friend walking past broke Zakiyyah's tortured trance, handing her a jacket and umbrella as he walked her into the Camden County College building. She had a GED class to attend.

"I don't have suicide thoughts anymore because when I do start thinking about my son, I go down in prayer. I pray a whole lot," she said at her home in the Crestbury Apartments, where she lives with Ibn and her daughters, Nashaya, 15, and Shahada, 10.

"I try to get through it each day. I keep myself busy so during the day I won't have to think about it," she said.

Anderson enrolled in the GED course hoping initially to become a corrections officer. She now says she wants to go into health care, because law enforcement would require spending training time away from the family.

Her daughter Nashaya, known as Shay, cries only when no one is around because she needs to be strong for the family, she said. She got a summer job at the Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy, which keeps her occupied and provides a small stream of income.

Shay has had to grow up fast. She followed her mother around for the first few weeks after Zakee's death, worried about her state of mind. When Ibn and Zakiyyah Anderson have arguments, Ibn storms out of their small home, Shay said, so she follows him, too.

"I don't want nothing to happen to my little brother," she said.

After Ibn survived the point-blank shooting, schoolboys and neighbors began complimenting him on how cool he was, nicknaming him after rappers and gangsters. Zakiyyah worried that being cool could lead Ibn into a life on the streets, like his older brother.

The family said Zakee fell into a bad crowd and got involved with drugs after the family moved to Camden from Newark. Court records show he was arrested in 2012 for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and related charges.

Shay described Zakee as her best friend. His death, she said, hardened her resolve to do well in school to become a lawyer and fulfill her dream of becoming a judge.

"There's nobody to chase the boys away. I will succeed for my brother," she said, styling her hair as she prepared to go to work. "I want to show him that I'm not like these little girls in the streets. I want to do better."

Shay said she regretted not helping the police more, as did Zakiyyah. Zakee would sneak into the house sometimes, they said, or arrange to meet with them, defying orders from the state Department of Children and Families that they not have contact.

Zakee was wanted on charges of receiving stolen property - the Smith & Wesson revolver used to shoot Ibn - and endangering the welfare of a child. If convicted, he would have faced a maximum of five years for each of the charges.

Zakiyyah said she did not know where her son was staying, but her children did. Similarly, she said, Zakee would give money - earned through what the county Prosecutor's Office investigators believe was the drug trade - to his siblings.

But the family told authorities Zakee had no contact with them.

"I should have called the cops on him," said Shay, who saw her brother the day before he was killed. "I wish when the cops come here, ask my mom, do we know where Zakee is? She should have said, 'Yeah.' I should have said, 'Yeah.' "

Mother and daughter both ask around the community to try to learn more about Zakee's killing. They know neighbors may not snitch to police but might talk to family. Someone, they believe, saw or heard something.

"I just was so angry at people that was out there at the time," Zakiyyah said. "There was a whole bunch of people out there that mean to tell me that they did not hear or see anything."

She saw her oldest child a week or two before his death, she said, and pleaded again with him to change his life.

"Zakee, get off the streets. You're going to die in the streets. Go to school, get your GED. If you don't want to go to school, go to work," she told him. "If you don't want to do it for me, do it for your sisters and brother."

Ibn and Shay, who had been running around the house for more than an hour, suddenly looked up from a mock battle when they heard their mother's voice break. They stopped wrestling and quietly scooted to the edge of the bed to sit next to Zakiyyah and hold her.

"I just wake up and think to myself, 'What if I could have did this? What if I could have did that?" she said. "Each day I'm getting through it little by little. Each day it's getting easier, but I will never forget. Around holidays - how come he's not going to be here? Thanksgiving - not here. His birthday, May 31, I can't wish him happy birthday."


Contact Jonathan Lai at 856-779-3220, jlai@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @elaijuh.

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