Newark preschooler was 'like an old soul'

By Barry Carter | The Star-Ledger
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on September 18, 2015

Rahmere Tullis of Newark playing at home.

 

Look at Rahmere Tullis in this picture. Take a moment and really look at him. Don't those big brown eyes make you want to blow out birthday candles and celebrate his life, which started just three years ago?

We already know how it ended last week, as Rahmere was walking to his third day of preschool at 7:40 a.m. with his mother, Jonika Matthews. And we know where we were and what we said when our hearts dropped as the death cloud hung over Newark again.

Rahmere, just 3 years old, died senselessly when he was hit by a car being chased by Newark police.  Authorities say the suspect, Troy Ruff, was wanted on aggravated assault and weapons charges. As the 22-year-old Newark man tried to get away from officers, he allegedly struck Rahmere at the corner of South 7th Street and 15th Avenue.

That part still makes us shudder. But Rahmere's parents and family members want us to erase the way he left Newark and embrace how he spent his time here.

"We want to mourn his death, but I want to celebrate his life,'' says Jewel Stuckey, an aunt.

Two weeks after he was born, the fidgety infant they called "Squirmy'' –  because he tossed and turned in his crib – kept trying to hold his head up, looking to see what he might have been missing.

"That's how we knew he was something special,'' says his father, Cordell Tullis.

At 3 months, he held his own bottle. He was walking by 8 months and getting into everything, working his way toward that proud papa moment.

"Dada."

Those were his first words at 9 months. He was moving so quickly, family members playfully say that Rahmere may have skipped eating baby food and went straight from formula to chowing down on meat as his teeth came in.

The stories about Rahmere had the family smiling for a bit the other day. It helped to soothe the pain. His parents, aunts and grandmother told colorful tales about the energetic boy, who slept soundly until he got up just before dawn and woke up everyone.

He'd get in his mother face, nudging her at 5:30 a.m. to fix breakfast. That morning, when the car jumped the curb, she didn't have time to cook, planning instead to buy him his favorite egg-and-cheese sandwich from the corner store.

"He didn't even get a chance to make it to the store,'' she says.

When he was home, it was all about Rahmere. She might have treated him to a favorite sandwich or just listened to what he had to say.

"He was like an old soul,'' Matthews says. "It was like he'd been here before.''

Rahmere was solid at 33 pounds, standing 3 feet tall, with an appetite that seemed endless. Ooodles and noodles were another favorite and just about any kind of fruit. Peas and broccoli were only digested if his mom sprinkled a little sugar on them.

Family members say Rahmere had presence about him, even though he was so young. He stood out among his 12 cousins, strutting about like a rooster with confidence. Take another look at the picture with this story. Notice the button on his blue shirt. It says – "I'm the boss.''

He was a big boy, all right.  He sat still in the barber's chair at age 1. On the first day of pre-school, he dressed himself in clothes that his mom laid out. When he came home that day, Matthews says Rahmere affirmed his "big boy" status, telling her that he used the potty without a problem.

What a kid, right?

Spiderman and Ninja Turtles were his buddies and so were his cousins. Technology was part of his world, too. It was nothing for Rahmere to scroll over to the YouTube app on his dad's phone or play a race car game on Xbox.

He loved cars. The one at Chuck E. Cheese's, the many he collected from Happy Meals at McDonald's.  Sometimes, he didn't even want the food, just the car. Or he'd sit on his daddy's lap, pretending he was driving.

But there was nothing like car rides with Dad. He'd sit in the back in his car seat, listening to R&B or hip-hop, his hands and feet shaking to the sounds.

"He would be back there dancing,'' Tullis says. "That's why it's hurting me so much.''

This is how it was for an evening, a chance for the family to open up before picking out a burial plot and his clothes. He'll be dressed casually in jeans with a T-shirt that has a picture of his parents, and he'll wear a cap with his name on it.

Coping at this point is tough, knowing that this didn't have to happen and finding out that insensitive people posted pictures on Facebook.

"My son wanted to live,'' Tullis says. "He had a purpose on this Earth.''

Matthews says she's trying to hold on, but she knows what's about to happen.

"I know I'll be no good when the day comes.''

That day is tomorrow, at Christian Pentecostal Church in Irvington. Visitation is at 9 a.m.; the funeral is at 10 a.m.

Rest well, Rahmere, and thank you for letting us get to know you through those big, beautiful brown eyes.

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