Camden murders cause holiday heartbreak [Photos]

For families of the recently murdered in Camden, N.J., the holiday season brought a special kind of hell.

At 7:25 pm on December 3, Luis Anibel Lopez was gunned down walking to a corner store on East State Street. The 43-year old loved the holiday so much that by the time of his murder, he’d already put up a Christmas tree and purchased about 20 gifts for his children, grandchildren and godchildren.

On the night before Christmas, his wife, Vivian Lopez wore a button with her dead husband’s picture on it. “He bought almost all the gifts under that tree,” she said.

The following day, Amir Adams, 27, was shot and killed at 2:50 pm in the Bergen Square neighborhood. Shortly before his death, Adams had confided in longtime girlfriend Danielle Goldsboro that he’d put money down on an engagement ring for her.

Goldsboro, eight months pregnant with their child, didn’t know that Adams planned to propose to her on Christmas day until his mother told her after he died.

Shortly after 1 am on December 20, Shaun Johnson, 29, was gunned down. The day after Christmas, his wife, Shanyce Johnson, said the pain for herself and the couple’s three children—ages 6, 7, and 12—had been “unbearable.”

“It’s just not fair. Christmas was his favorite holiday. He just loved to watch the smiles that he put on our faces. Nothing will ever be the same.”

The other victims this month were Tyrone Fooks, 32, a father of three, who was shot and killed in Fairview on December 17 and Nakema Nokes, 34, a mother of four who was also raising a grandchild, and who died of a single gunshot to the head in her Ablett Village home on December 21.

Between them, these five December victims—which bring the year’s homicide total in the city thus far to 45–had 14 children, four grandchildren, a stepchild, and one soon-to-be-born baby.

In a span of 18 days, 16 Camden children effectively lost a father or mother; no arrests have been made in any of the five homicides.

On Christmas Eve at 10 pm, the presents that Luis Lopez had bought for his grandchildren—five for each, including a dollhouse, X-box system and a train that a toddler could actually ride on—were opened. He’d also bought gifts for his godchildren, although he hadn’t finished shopping for his adult daughters.

In the next room, a memorial sheet with Lopez’ portrait hung on a wall.

The forklift operator had been separated from his wife for several years, but they’d remained close friends and he was a constant presence in her home, never missing a graduation, prom, or birthday party. Daughter Leahnie Lopez called the pain of his loss “almost suffocating.”

The family remained dry-eyed until goddaughter Cassandra Dominguez, 11, opened the flute that Lopez had bought her, and cried in her mother’s arms. She had been taking lessons for two years and had never owned her own instrument before.

Danielle Goldsboro’s Christmas Eve errands included a trip to Littman Jewelers in Cherry Hill. Amir Adams, who had also helped raise Goldsboro’s three-year old son Ahzeer from the child’s birth, was the kind of person who “saved every receipt,” including the one for the $1100 diamond engagement ring. He still owed $380 on it.

She told a jewelry clerk that Adams was dead, and he said that her boyfriend had been at the store every day. Then she put a hundred dollars down towards paying off the ring.

Adams had told his father he planned to get down on both knees to propose, not just one. Doctors told his family that had he survived the multiple gunshots, Adams would have been paralyzed from the waist down.

Goldsboro says she will name their daughter Amirah after him.

“I just wish he was here to see his daughter being born,” she says. “That was his biggest dream.”

April Saul is a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist who lives in Camden. She can be reached at  aprilpix@aol.com, and her work chronicling life in Camden can be seen at her Facebook page.

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