14-year-old’s shooting death in Camden sends shockwaves through South Jersey community

Jassan Lindsey was the youngest person to die from gunfire in Camden in five years. Hundreds of people attended his funeral Monday, remembering his "beautiful spirit."

On Nov. 8, at the Sunset Memorial Park Cemetery in Pennsauken, Jassan Lindsey's paternal grandmother, Alma Lindsey, talks about how much her grandson meant to her at his casket; at right, Jassan's younger brother, Kason Lindsey, 4 — too young to comprehend the loss — holds a flower. (April Saul for WHYY)

On Nov. 8, at the Sunset Memorial Park Cemetery in Pennsauken, Jassan Lindsey's paternal grandmother, Alma Lindsey, talks about how much her grandson meant to her at his casket; at right, Jassan's younger brother, Kason Lindsey, 4 — too young to comprehend the loss — holds a flower. (April Saul for WHYY)

Jamie Stewart has a video on her phone of her 14-year-old son, Jassan Lindsey, at an East Camden house party on Oct. 29 — the last family gathering he’d ever attend.

He is sitting on a sofa, grinning and chatting with the 18-year old cousin celebrating her birthday — only minutes before two bullets fired from just outside the home’s front window tore into the child at close range and ended his life.

His father, Hasson Lindsey, who brought his son to the party on the 2000 block of Berwick Street, recalled that no more than a dozen guests — all women and children except for him — were in attendance. An hour after arriving there, at about 10:45 p.m., he held his fatally wounded son in his arms; Jassan was pronounced dead a half-hour later at Cooper University Hospital.

The 2000 block of Berwick Street in the McGuire Gardens public housing complex where Jassan Lindsey was killed on Oct. 29. (April Saul for WHYY)

The shooter, a 17-year old boy from Camden, was arrested on Nov. 5 on a charge of first-degree murder.

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In Camden, the murder of a 9th grader from Washington Township for no apparent reason, who was in the city visiting relatives, sent shock waves that extended from the city to the Gloucester County suburbs where he lived.

“It’s not just one life affected,” said Jassan’s maternal grandmother, Chantay Henry, “it’s hundreds. Hundreds.”

At a Nov. 5 vigil for Jassan Lindsey at Thomas Jefferson elementary school in Sewell, students embrace near a collage of photos of Jassan Lindsey. They are, from left to right: Akiyah Johnson, 15; Vaniyah Coleman, 15; Joshlyn Oritiz, 15; and Samiyah Halty. (April Saul for WHYY)

Between four and five hundred of those lives showed up at the Solid Rock Baptist Church in Berlin on Monday to pay their respects to the child that his mother described as “our rock” and a best friend to both her and his father. In addition to friends and family members, mourners included classmates, congregants of two churches Jassan attended regularly, and football teammates. The teen had played the sport for eight years, most recently as a Washington Township High freshman.

By the time of Jassan’s service, a crowdfunding effort to raise money for it had netted nearly $20,000 — twice as much as its goal. Two vigils had been held in his memory, one at Cooper River Park for close friends and family, and one in Sewell, attended by 200 mourners and led by Colleen Cancila, principal of Washington Township’s Orchard Valley Middle School where Jassan had been a student.

“He was caught in the crossfire of something he had nothing to do with,” said Cancila. “And that’s not fair.”

A collage of photos of the late Jassan Lindsey. (April Saul for WHYY)

Jassan Lindsey was the youngest person to die from gunfire in Camden since the August 2016 death of 8-year old Gabby Hill-Carter, who was caught in the crossfire in the city.

While homicides are down in Camden compared to previous years, Jassan was the 19th person murdered in the city in 2021 and the third in just two weeks. On Nov. 4, a 20th victim, 22-year-old Kwamere Brown, was fatally shot in the city.

The ripple effects of these murders underscored the urgent need for police and community efforts to keep teens safe and treat trauma.

The Monday after the Friday night shooting of Jassan, Cancila said her school district partnered with the Traumatic Loss Coalition for Gloucester County to reach out to students at her school and Washington Township High School, where Jassan had been a student since September. Cancila said a close friend of the teen was so comforted by petting and hugging a therapy dog that the 8th grader sent a thank you note to school staffers to express his appreciation.

At a Nov. 4 vigil for Jassan Lindsey at Cooper River Park, friends and family members grieve. (April Saul for WHYY)

For mentors and activists in Camden, where many residents have been affected by violence, a homicide like this one underscores the need for more resources — starting with the children who witnessed the killing.

“Those kids,” said Tracey Hall, whose Daelight Foundation aims to raise awareness about suicide prevention, “will definitely need intense therapy, because you’ve got kids doing nothing wrong, and something very wrong happened. So they’re going to feel like, what did we do to deserve this?”

Hall, a former Camden police officer, also noted that the fatal Nov. 4 shooting of Lamont Demby, a father of five, happened shortly after 3 p.m. at Jackson and Warsaw streets, a stone’s throw from the Camden Prep elementary school.

Family, community loses ‘a beautiful spirit’

Hasson Lindsey, who Stewart said used to tease their son by saying Jassan had “a smiling disorder” because he was so happy, took Jassan to the family party at the boy’s urging. Jassan’s paternal grandmother, Alma Lindsey, said he “was a beautiful spirit” who cherished family connections and “wanted so bad for our families to be as one.”

His parents had been together for 16 years before separating three years ago and coparented amicably, with Jassan spending weekdays with his mother and weekends with his father. Lindsey and Stewart had nicknamed the boy “Dusty” for his love of outdoor activities. Older sister Janiya Stewart said, “If the house caught on fire, he’d still be playing his video games.”

Jassan’s mother was told of her son’s shooting by phone while celebrating her 40th birthday at a Cancun, Mexico steakhouse. Stewart, a registered nurse, had marked the birthday by miniature golfing and relaxing with her children before taking the trip, and left Jassan in his father’s care.

“I just hung up and I was screaming,” she said, “and they somehow got me back to my room.” She had been out of the country for less than 48 hours, and flew back immediately.

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At a Nov. 4 vigil for Jassan Lindsey at Cooper River Park, his maternal grandmother Chantay Henry, left, addresses mourners. Jassan’s mother, Jamie Stewart, is at right. (April Saul for WHYY)

Jassan’s 21-year-old cousin, Takayah Lindsey, said he had invited Jassan to a party he was planning the same night at his Clementon home, but it had been canceled. Otherwise, “he would have been at my house in Clementon,” he said.

Jassan, Lindsey said through tears, “was my heart. I watched him grow up.” His cousin said Jassan wanted to learn to box; the two had planned to visit a gym on Oct. 30.

Both of Jassan’s parents had already been deeply affected by violence. Stewart moved her family from Camden to Gloucester County a decade ago after her nephew, Jahir Henry, was shot and paralyzed at the age of 16 as he walked home from school in McGuire Gardens, the same public housing project where Jassan was killed. No arrest was made in Henry’s shooting.

“Just know,” Stewart said in a Facebook post, “that I did everything I could to protect and raise my babies right, I tried to keep them away from violence and dysfunction, I tried so hard.” She also raised Henry; he was still living with her, Jassan, and two other siblings and said he was very close to his late cousin.

Jassan’s dad had an older son, Hasson Lindsey Jr., who was shot and killed in Texas three years ago and buried at Sunset Memorial Park Cemetery in Pennsauken. On Monday, Jassan’s casket was placed in the same plot.

“Take care of your brother, Hasson,” Stewart whispered into the grave as she placed a flower on her son’s casket.

On Nov. 8, pallbearers place Jassan Lindsey’s casket in a hearse after his funeral service at the Solid Rock Baptist Church in Berlin, while mourners hold up the teen’s nickname, “Sanny” spelled out in flowers. (April Saul for WHYY)

Hasson Lindsey Sr., who now lives in Gloucester County, said two lives had been destroyed that night — his son’s and that of Jassan’s killer.

“This guy just shot my son,” he said, “It was for nothing at all. It’s not something my brain can even fathom … That’s why his life is ruined now, too.”

He is thinking about getting counseling.

“I lost a child,” he said, “It feels like it’s going to be fresh forever. It’s one of those things you can’t explain, like explaining color to a blind person.”

Urgent need for trauma-informed support

Nyzia Easterling, who founded the Saving Grace Ministries in Camden to help children and families impacted by violence, believes the need for counseling in the city is dire, for both children and adults. She leads a twice-weekly group at the Salvation Army’s Kroc Center called Healing Matters, but believes the city needs much more than it currently offers.

“More programs should be done within the schools, and then outside of school,” said Easterling. “The kids need safe havens and healing hubs where they can talk to people. If we want them to do better, we have to provide more services.”

When childhood trauma goes unaddressed, said Easterling, it can make for “troubled teenagers. Then here comes the IEP [Individualized Learning Plan], here comes the 504 plan, here comes the medication, because the trauma was not dealt with at the time.”

Camden school board vice-president N’Namdee Nelson, whose nonprofit, Rising Leaders, assists at-risk youth in the city, said much more has to be done to keep young people safe.

Nelson applauds the Camden County Police Department’s Village Initiative program, which he said brings between 40 and 100 young people to city gyms three times a month. He wants to see it expand.

“We have kids,” he said, “but we don’t always have the adults” to be enough of a presence. “I do believe there’s not enough program involvement, not enough community leadership, not enough support from parents and guardians.”

He, Hall, and others took note of a program in Shreveport, Louisiana called Dads on Duty that put fathers of students in the hallways of Southwood High School, which was troubled by violence; it ended the fights and the related arrests of students there. In recent weeks, the new Camden High campus has reportedly seen an uptick in student fights, and the Camden High football team was recently disqualified from the playoffs for an altercation during a game.

Like Nelson, Hall is realistic about a lack of adult volunteers in her city. “We could never do what they did in Louisiana,” said Hall. “We don’t have enough people.”

She stressed the need for kids to see “people are really here for them, to show up for them, to hug them, support them, and talk to them” — starting, perhaps, with the children who witnessed Jassan’s murder.

“They’re going to remember this,” she said, “for the rest of their lives.”

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