By Stefan Oliva (NCC News) Syracuse, NY – It is gun violence month and a Syracuse man partnered with the Onondaga Earth Corps (OEC) to plant trees to remember people who died from bullets in a more pleasant way. Rashawn Sullivan killed a 17 year old in 1997 and went to prison for about 17 years.
He got the idea for the project while he was out doing community work in the Southside neighborhood and saw that memorials did not do the dead justice. So he decided to take action.
“I wanted to do it in a way that symbolized growth and give the message to the family members in the community that we have to grow for this,” Sullivan said. “I wanted to do this on a symbolic level to let them know that we have to grow from these tragedies.”
So far, three trees have been planted. Here’s the backstory for each victim:
Sullivan was 47 when he was shot and killed in front of Lois Lounge on Sept. 13, 2008. Sullivan was Rashawn’s uncle and the details of the incident are unknown. The police never found the shooter.
Smith was 33 when he was shot and killed in his Merriman Avenue home in December 2017. Smith’s sister said he was shot by four masked men and her cousin told her James was tied up down stairs and eventually shot. Syracuse Police Sgt. Richard Helterline said investigators could not confirm Smith’s sister’s version of the story.
A 16-year-old boy admitted to shooting Smith in the chest, which eventually killed him. Police say the men broke in to steal things, but it’s unclear what they were after.
According to The Post Standard, Ryan was 17 when he was shot in the head with a sawed-off shotgun on July 22, 1999. His grandmother warned him about going to a certain area in the Southside neighborhood because he was selling drugs on a corner already claimed by other dealers. Less than an hour after that conversation, Ryan was killed.
Pending grants from the county and whatever money Sullivan and the OEC can secure, they are looking to expand this project and turn the empty lot on West Newell Street into a park similar to the Butterfly Garden at the Onondaga Lake Park.
To see the locations of the three trees planted so far, look at the map below.