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Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Orlando teen watched brother die in drive-by shooting

Jeffrey Lewis tethered a bunch of half-inflated balloons with the green yarn his slain older brother once used to crotchet bags and scarves for friends and family.

He carefully chose a spot for the pink, blue, orange and green balloons and tied them to a treeside memorial marking the spot where 19-year-old Collins Solomon succumbed to multiple gunshot wounds during a Saturday night drive-by shooting at his Orlando apartment complex.

Once they were affixed, the 16-year-old stared forward blankly, pressed his lips together tightly and closed his eyes.

"I never believed something like that would happen to him," Lewis said.

Lewis was walking down a familiar path home with his brother and friend Jha-gil Gray when gunfire erupted about 10:30 p.m. at the Grande Pointe Apartments near Orange Blossom Trail.

Solomon and Gray were on their way to a party and had been cracking jokes moments before someone showed up in a car.

"There wasn't no warning. They just started shooting," said 20-year-old Gray, who was grazed in the head by a bullet and wore a beige bandanna covering the wound. As he attended the memorial site on Sunday, he still wore a hospital bracelet on his left hand.

Jeffrey and Gray took off running at the crack of gunfire, but Solomon was hit, falling in front of an iron fence separating two neighborhoods.

Jeffrey ran home for help, saying his brother was dead. No one believed him until they saw his body sprawled in plain view of all the neighbors.

Family said Solomon had his fair share of troubles with the law, including prior arrests for grand theft, burglary and criminal mischief in Orange County. But they didn't know if he had enemies.

"He walked the streets, but he didn't look for trouble," said brother Anthony Solomon, adding that Collins Solomon had learned to crotchet at an at-risk youth program.

The fun-loving Collins Solomon, who was known as Slider, was seen as a trendsetter who loved to sing and struggled to find a job or return to school. He wanted to be a chef.

Orange County deputies continue to search for the gunman but did not provide any other details regarding suspects or a motive for the violence.

"Everyone you laugh and grin with ain't your friend," said Dorthy Phillips, who curated the monument with a running monologue about the dangers of the street to anyone who stopped by.

Some nodded in agreement. Others added their own commentary, bemoaning the youth violence and advising the young men there to "change your crews and switch your style."

Jeffrey couldn't take it anymore, and tears spilled from his eyes.

"He [Solomon] always told me to stay out of the streets and stay in school," he said. "I know I won't end on this path."




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