In a chain of holiday homicides, a Newark man's death goes unnoticed

By Mark Di Ionno/Star-Ledger Columnist
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on January 14, 2014

A memorial outside the home of Kason Williams in his memory. Kason Williams, killed Dec. 17 in Newark, NJ 1/9/14 (William Perlman/The Star-Ledger)


Kason Williams was helping his mother wrap Christmas presents on the night of Dec. 17 as a mix of snow and freezing rain fell outside.

He said he was going out to clear off the car, and I told him to wait," Carol Williams said, struggling to the tell story though the unrelenting tears and deep sobs of a grieving mother. "I told him, ‘Baby, it’s too cold out.’ But he said he wanted to do it so it wouldn’t freeze up."

Kason Williams went out, and a few moments later, his mother heard gunshots. She did not panic, though.

"It is not unusual for us to hear gunshots in this neighborhood. It wasn’t until I heard him hollering for me. He was calling for me. He said, ‘Mama, call the cops.’ "

It was at this point in the story that Carol Williams broke down and could not continue.

"Oh, Father in heaven, oh, Jesus Lord," she cried from her bed in a room that overlooks the spot where her son was gunned down and where his blood still stains the sidewalk. "All I have is my faith, all I have is my God."

Kason Williams, 29, was shot on a Newark street across across from a grammar school, and died a half-hour later at the hospital. He was his mother’s youngest child, and only surviving son. Her other died as an infant.

In a Christmas season of high-profile homicides, Kason Williams’ death got little attention. He was shot two nights after Dustin Friedland, the Short Hills mall carjack victim. Then came Reginald Terry, 18, the former Central High football star, shot in the back in Newark’s downtown. Then the triple murder on Christmas morning outside an Irvington go-go bar. Then the Christmas night double-homicide of Kasson Morman, 15, and Zainee Hailey, 13, a church-going girl who was only outside her home to take out the Christmas Day trash.

While a man randomly shot cleaning snow off his car is equal evidence of the runaway violence and lawlessness in parts of our cities, Williams’ death was relegated to a typical Newark homicide when police said it was drug-related and he was targeted.

Williams was shot twice before. Once in the backside in a drive-by, and last year by a pellet gun as he defended a stepbrother during an altercation at a pool hall. But according to state and county corrections he had no criminal record. The only time his name came up on the database, it was used as an alias by a repeat offender named Shaun Ellis. The picture of "Kason Williams" in the database is, in fact, Shaun Ellis.

His mother vehemently denies the shooting was "drug-related."

"Kason was a good, good boy. He was never in trouble."

On the walls of the apartment are certificates of Williams’ achievements; a diploma from Shabazz High and several bowling awards. He did not work. His mother said he had attention deficit disorder and other health issues.

So he was usually around when Jane Nast from the Presbyterian Church of Morristown dropped off donations to Carol Williams to distribute in her neighborhood. This has been going for "at least 20 years," Nast said. Food for holidays, toys for Christmas, Easter baskets, backpacks for when school was opening, coats for winter. Carol Williams’ small, ground-floor apartment was the clearinghouse, with donations overrunning the rooms.

"She is the angel of the neighborhood," said Nast.

"Everybody calls her ‘Mama Carol,’" said Williams’ daughter, Kisa, 31. "She is the mother of the neighborhood."

Nast said Kason Williams was always there to help "unload the heavy stuff," and if he wasn’t, would come as soon as his mother called. Then he would help deliver goods along South 16th Street and Madison Avenue.

"He was just a nice guy, with a good sense of humor," said Nast. "There were times he was sullen, and he told me he was bipolar. But he was always very polite, and very open and friendly."

Nast got to know the Williams’ family through Helen M. Stummer, a photographer and author who has traveled to three continents photographing people living in poverty. Her book "No Easy Walk, Newark, 1980-1993" (Temple University Press) centered around the everyday life of families living in a broken-down tenement at 322 Irvine Blvd., which eventually burned down.

Carol Williams and her family were featured in the book. In those pages, Kason Williams lives as a little boy. A happy boy, one with hopes. In one photo, he is posed with a friend with the caption "We want to be doctors." In another, he is doing homework with his sisters with Carol watching over them. In another, he is on a stool, washing dishes.

"I was always fascinated by how the children rise above the rubble and hardship," Stummer said. "I mean, these children have nothing, and yet they find ways to play and be happy."

Carol Williams said the book was important to her because "when my children grew up to be something great, they would be able to look back and see what they overcame. I always believed they would."

Now, the violence over the holidays brought her a despair deeper than she ever imagined.

"I’m crying for my son, my baby, and all these babies. They were just babies," Carol Williams said.

"What’s happening out here is evil. It’s just evil. This violence, this violent crime. To have a loved one just snatched out of your hands ..."

And again she broke down to a point where she could not continue.

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