During an interview in 2011 on a New York cable TV program called “Inside City Hall,” Lavon Walker told of how he was using his criminal past to help kids avoid the violence that dominated his youth.
“My mindset was changed. I’m out there to let them know their mindset can be changed, too,” Walker told the host.
Early Sunday morning, Walker, a former outreach worker from Brooklyn, New York, who volunteered with a group dedicated to reducing gun violence called Save Our Streets, was shot to death on a Miami Beach street corner.
Miami Beach police investigating the shooting believe Walker may have been the unintended victim of gunfire directed at a group nearby. A former co-worker said Walker was on vacation.
Walker, a married father of two, an infant and an 8-year-old, was 30.
“It was the anniversary of a family member’s death. He was trying to get away for a little while,” said Amy Ellenbogen, director of the Crown Heights Mediation Center, where Walker used to work.
Police say Walker was shot two times at 7 a.m. Sunday as he stood on the sidewalk on Ocean Drive and Eighth Street just outside the News Cafe. One witness, an Uber driver who wouldn’t give his name, said he clearly saw three men walk toward the restaurant and open fire.
“It did not look random because one guy had his gun pointed right at the individual,” the driver told WSVN-Channel 7.
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At least one door window was blown out at the News Cafe, the same iconic beach restaurant where Gianni Versace ate his last meal before Andrew Cunanan shot him on his doorstep just a few blocks away in 1997.
A source familiar with the incident said investigators were looking into the possibility of Walker being “collateral damage” during some type of argument, possibly between rappers. Miami Beach police spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez said Walker was taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital, where he was declared dead.
No one else was injured in the shooting.
Walker was known in the Crown Heights neighborhood where he spent five years walking streets offering friendship to those in need and advice to those set on doing harm.
He joined Save Our Streets, an offshoot of the Crown Heights Mediation Center in the mold of anti-violence groups in Chicago and Baltimore, when it was created in 2010.
Back then, he was one of four volunteers who would go to areas where there had been clusters of shootings. The group was in part funded with money from the U.S. Department of Justice.
“We find out what their needs are, anything that’s going to gear them or shift them to a different mentality toward gun violence,” he told The New York Times in 2010. “We become like their bigger brothers, even closer than their fathers.”
In 2014, the Al Jazeera News Network said Walker’s Save Our Streets crew was reducing gun violence in Brooklyn. Though New York City’s murder rate had dropped to its lowest total in a half century, Brooklyn remained the bloodiest borough, responsible for 44 percent of the city’s murders.
Still, Brooklyn’s numbers were down overall. Walker told the news network it was in part because he was passing along what he learned from his youth, when, “I was out here every day sellin’ drugs, robbing cars, robbing stores, gang-bangin’, hanging with the crew. I was out here jumping people, fighting people, you know, whatever we had to do.”
A review of Walker’s criminal history in New York by the Miami Herald on Monday turned up nothing, his youth records possibly sealed.
Al Jazeera ran the story with the headline, “Ex-cons campaign against violence, and it’s working.”
Walker left Save Our Streets a little more than a year ago, Ellenbogen said. She wasn’t certain exactly why he departed, but said Walker would often come around and visit with his children.
Andrea Wilmer, a preacher from New York who grew close to Walker, used Facebook to express her sorrow. She said she was blessed to give birth to two girls, but that God gave her a son.
“Blood could not make us closer. Lavon, his wife Marilyn and children are my immediate family. Lavon was my boy,” Wilmer said. “We shared so much. Everyone said I took up for him. This is so unreal. My heart is broken. This is so overwhelming. Please pray for his entire family.”
Miami Herald staff writer David J. Neal contributed to this report.