In struggling Pittsburgh suburb where Antwon Rose Jr. was killed, there is only resignation

The Pittsburgh suburb where Antwon Rose Jr. was killed looks more like an abandoned subdivision or a down-on-its-luck small town than an actual city suburb: a smattering of ramshackle houses, a couple of churches and little else.

Funeral services being held Monday for the 17-year-old gunned down by police last week

Memorial was set up for for 17-year-old Antwon Rose Jr. where he was gunned down in East Pittsburgh on June 19. (Cara Cruz/CBC)

Several kilometres east of downtown Pittsburgh and a few twisting freeways away from the angry protests that rocked the city for several straight nights, lies the tiny, hillside borough of Braddock, Pa.

A tour along its pothole-ridden streets reveals few clues that 17-year-old Antwon Rose Jr. was gunned down by an East Pittsburgh Police officer here June 19. Nor is the usual makeshift memorial and the stream of mourners coming to pay their respects to the high school student easy to find.

Braddock is less than two square kilometres in size, but amid the smattering of ramshackle houses, a couple of churches and little else, a street-by-street search yielded no sign of a memorial.

Braddock looks more like an abandoned subdivision or a down-on-its-luck small town than an actual city suburb. Antwon Rose lived not far from where he died here, and everyone in this community of fewer than 2,200 people seems to have some connection to him, however tangential.

Rob Demery discusses the police shooting of Rose two blocks from his home in Braddock, Pa. (Cara Cruz/CBC)

A wake was held Sunday night, and funeral services were scheduled for Monday for the black teenager shot and killed by a white police officer when he fled a traffic stop. Hundreds of mourners were expected to attend the service for Rose at the Woodland Hills Intermediate School.

"I knew his mom," says 52-year-old Rob Demery, who grew up in Duquesne, another suburb. "I didn't know that was her son, though."

Demery was standing on his front porch in Braddock. Asked for his thoughts on the teen's tragic death, he pointed to a patch of grass just steps away.

"I'm not shocked. Just a year ago, I watched two guys who I thought were going to fight, but instead one pulled out a gun and shot the other right in front of me, in broad daylight."

Drive-by shooting

While disheartened by yet another shooting death of a young black man, Demery was measured in his assessment of what transpired the night Antwon Rose was killed.

The fatal encounter happened as police were investigating a drive-by shooting in a nearby borough. Authorities say the vehicle Rose and another man were riding in matched the description of the one used in the earlier crime.

Teddy bears, candles and flowers mark the spot where Rose was shot and killed by police in East Pittsburgh. (Cara Cruz)

Once stopped by police, graphic cellphone video shows Rose jumping from the back seat of the car and running, before he was shot in the back three times by an East Pittsburgh Police officer, since identified as Michael Rosfeld.

Rosfeld has been placed on unpaid, administrative leave while the Allegheny County Police Department investigates.

Rose was pronounced dead in hospital soon after he was shot. Police say two firearms were retrieved from the vehicle, but the teen himself was unarmed.

He was my bestest friend. He told me I was beautiful every day.- Jay

"It doesn't matter that there was a shooting not far away. That has nothing to do with what happened to that boy," says Demery.

"The cops are trying to conflate the two things. The fact is, that cop made a mistake shooting an unarmed boy who ran from the car. He'll have to live with that."

Demery, a recovering drug addict, concedes that after his own 11-month stint in jail, "I'm really in no position to judge."

Antwon Rose Jr. kibbitzing with friends in a photo supplied to CBC News by his friend Jay. (Submitted to CBC)

In the neighbouring community of Rankin where Rose lived, a grieving 18-year-old girl is less forgiving. "You shouldn't be afraid of the people who should protect you."

Jay, whose mother wouldn't allow her last name to be printed, says she hasn't slept since the night Rose died.

"He was my bestest friend. He told me I was beautiful every day."

From her cellphone, Jay shared some of her favourite pictures of Rose, who she says people assumed was family because of how much time he spent at her house visiting her and her brother, often staying the night.

"He would just poke his head into my room and say, 'Hey bestie, you need anything?' He was the greatest friend I ever had."

10th grade poem

Jay acknowledges her neighbourhood is dangerous. Rose was the fourth student from their high school to be shot and killed since May of last year.

Speaking of the now well-reported poem he wrote in his 10th grade honours English class, alluding to his fears of a violent early death, Jay says of her friend, "He foresaw this."

Back in Braddock, asked where Rose was killed, Demery said to drive to a point past two stop signs and take a left.

Days of relentless, torrential rains that have pounded Pittsburgh and surrounding areas since the day Antwon Rose was killed had done little to protect the modest shrine that remained at the site.

On a concrete ledge outside a community building, sat a few sopping wet teddy bears, some wilting flowers and votive candles bearing a few stark, hand-written messages: "RIP. Always will be loved." No wonder it was easy to miss.

About the Author

Cara Cruz is a former CBC producer now living in Pittsburgh.