Remembering Kordero Hunter, one year later

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Remembering Kordero Hunter, one year later

It was exactly one year ago today — in the wee morning hours of Sept. 23, 2011 — that she got the shattering phone call from her former husband, Kevin Hunter.

“It was one of those moments in life where time stands still,” Kim Hunter Bradley said quietly. “It was about 3 a.m. and Kevin was saying, ‘Look, we have to get to Ohio. Our boy has been hurt. Kordero’s been shot … and they’re saying it’s pretty bad.”

She remembers “just freaking out,” unable to breathe or speak or think, but then she managed to pack a bag and hurry off to meet Kevin and their older son, Kevin Jr., for the frantic trip from the South Side of Chicago to Dayton.

She drove, her son was in the passenger seat and Kevin Sr. was in the back. Initially, she had no luck getting information from Miami Valley Hospital and with each unfulfilled call, the panic intensified.

How could this have happened?

Just 13 days earlier, Kordero, their younger son, had had the shining moment of his college football career. After a bumpy couple of years — culminating with his transfer from Northern Illinois University — he had come to Central State, won the starting cornerback position and, though the Marauders had lost, he had played well against North Carolina Central in the Cleveland Classic at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

His mom had been in the stands that day. His dad had been at CSU’s Dayton Classic game at Welcome Stadium the week before and both parents had been reminded of Kordero’s glory days at Hillcrest High in the Chicago suburb of Country Club Hills.

More importantly, their boy had been establishing himself in the classroom and on campus.

“Kordero was in the group that came to the bible study I teach every Thursday on campus,” said Pastor Dion Sampson, a former CSU student who now ministers in Dayton. “My wife and I also have dinner for young people on Sundays and Kordero was often a guest at our house. He liked to have fun, but at the same time he was serious and he cared about his friends. He was just an awesome guy.”

Kim, a counselor at Christian Fenger High in Chicago, was seeing that, too: “As a parent you can look at your child and just know when he’s finally turned the corner and is headed in the right direction.”

Kordero – who had turned 21 earlier in the month — was feeling good about life, as well, and maybe it was that euphoria that prompted him to get into the red Dodge Charger his dad had just gotten him before school started and drive from his Xenia apartment to what was then the A-List Lounge – and now the Envy Ultra Lounge – on South Ludlow Street.

There he planned to join a crush of other Marauder students who had been bused the 25 miles from campus to the downtown Dayton club by a college promoter for what was billed as a CSU Night. In fact, almost everyone connected to the A-List — from the guy who owns the club to the DJ, bartenders and bouncers — was a CSU alum or former student.

Before leaving, Kordero called his grandmother in Chicago and also spoke to his dad, who said he told his boy to “have fun, but be careful.” Kordero told him he was going to be with his classmates.

“Those Central State kids didn’t really know what they were walking into,” said Dayton Police Major Larry Faulkner, a vocal critic of the few problematic bars in the downtown area he oversees. “And the next thing you know that poor young man gets shot.”

Kim said they had just turned onto I-65 in northern Indiana when Kevin’s phone rang: “They told him Kor hadn’t made it and he just lost it. He threw the phone and broke down and said he had to get out of the car.”

She pulled their vehicle onto the berm and her former husband and their son got out: “They just walked up and down the highway screaming. I sat there in the car and called my friend and asked her to pray with me. I needed to hold it together to get through the trip.”

Kim finally got the men back into the car and that’s when Kevin Sr. told her he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t make the trip. She turned around, drove him to his mother’s house outside Chicago and then headed out again on that inconceivable five-hour drive.

“Somehow I was able to maintain my composure the whole way,” she said. “I just kept thinking I’ve got to get to my boy. But then when I got to the hospital he was gone. He was a homicide victim and the coroner had his body.

“That’s when it all hit me. ‘I wasn’t bringing our son home. And so all I could think of was that, ‘I want to get every part of Kordero out of Ohio, now.’ ”

A Dayton police detective helped them get Kordero’s car keys and wallet. “We got directions to that club and there was Kordero’s car parked right across the street,” Kim said. “And we went to his apartment and it looked just like he’d left it – clothes all over, an unfinished pizza on the stove, his bible by his bed. We packed up everything and then I had one last thing to do.

“I had to make arrangements to have our son’s body flown home.”

Tears were rolling down her cheeks now, her voice drifted off … and she began to weep.

From a good family

Kim and Kevin met at Illinois State University and soon were married. Some five years after Kevin was born, they had Kordero. More outspoken than his older brother, he could be playful, headstrong and charming. And like Kevin, he gravitated to football.

“When he was 3, my sister bought him a Chicago Bears football outfit and he slept in in,” Kim said with a smile. “He always wanted to be a football player. He’d always say that one day he’d make it big and buy an estate for all of us. His dad would say, ‘’You’re not putting us in there together are you?’ And he’d go, ‘No, mom will stay in the west wing and Dad, you get the east.’ We’d all laugh at that.”

Kevin Sr., a longtime credit analyst at a Chicago-area bank, said he got Kordero playing football at an early age and helped guide him along each season.

“The boys were raised by a very strong African-American man, a good provider, just a positive influence in their lives,” Kim said.

As Kevin Sr. put it: “That’s what needs to come out about Kordero. He wasn’t a street kid. He came from a good family that believes in education, working, paying taxes, voting, being good citizens. He had a foundation.”

Kevin Jr. graduated from Northern Illinois and then got his master’s degree.

Kordero planned to follow his brother to NIU and after winning all-conference football honors as a senior, he had a scholarship offer. But then he and another student got involved in what Kim calls a “stupid prank” — shooting a paint ball gun at students — and they got booted from the school. Kordero transferred to nearby Eisenhower High, graduated and went on to NIU, but, as his dad said, the stunt cost him his scholarship.

He walked onto the team, struggled to find playing time, had a thorny relationship with a girlfriend and finally decided to follow a high school friend to CSU.

Once he got to Central State he found a half dozen guys on the football team from Chicago’s South Side and became especially close to linebacker Darius Wilson, whom he had played against as a youngster right up through their days at neighboring high schools.

“When Kordero first got here he talked about all the stuff he was gonna do on the field when he finally could play for us,” said head coach E. J. Junior. “I told him, ‘Actions speak louder than words,’ and I’ve got to say, he was starting to do just what he said he would.”

Kim had given her boy the same advice:

“I’ve told all the kids, when you start thinking about a career, you don’t want to do something just to make money. You want to do something where you use your gifts to help others. You have to have a purpose in life.

“And right before he passed he said, ‘Mom, I think I want to be a counselor. Something like you do. I want to work with young men and help them stay out of trouble.”

‘I’m hit’

Demetrius Wright was right next to Kordero — “an arm’s length away,” he said — when trouble found him last September.

The 35-year-old Wright owns the building on Ludlow that housed the A List — and now its reincarnation as the Envy Ultra Lounge — and he runs the club.

Although the place was closed a few nights ago — it only opens late on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights — he was there in the empty club, leaning on the big, square bar that’s the centerpiece of the exposed brick room. Soon he found himself surrounded by the images of that deadly night one year past.

“I had pulled up late because I was coming from the restaurant I used to have in Cincinnati,” he said. “I wasn’t here 20 minutes when an altercation broke out between some locals and some football players. There was a lot of pushing and shoving, some guys started to fight and security got on it very fast. I pushed some of the players out the door and I told them to leave and they did.

A local guy who had gotten involved in the dispute — lanky, 6-foot-7 Jason Shern, a 30-year-old with a long arrest record — had been escorted out, as well.

“He was hanging outside and then somebody walked up to him and offered him a gun,” Wright said. “He was looking for the player who had jumped him. I was standing right there by the door. I tried to talk him out of it. I said, ‘You don’t want to make that move.’ ”

Wright knew only too well what the scenario could turn into. Fourteen months earlier, 21-year-old Jamahl Moore was shot 15 times outside the A-List. Although he miraculously survived that attack, he was then shot to death in his West Grand Avenue apartment 10 months later.

That initial shooting helped cement the A-List’s reputation as a trouble spot in downtown Dayton. When the club had opened a year prior, Faulkner said, he and representatives of the City of Dayton and the priority board went to the state liquor board hearing and tried to prevent the A-List from getting a license to sell alcohol.

“They didn’t have any kind of business plan, no demographics on who their customers would be and they claimed to be run by some non-profit group,” said Faulkner. “A lot of it just didn’t make sense. They just weren’t equipped for the challenges they’d face.”

Dayton police officials have a Bar Safe program they try to get all bar owners to attend, and most do. “When applied, these practices absolutely, positively work,” Faulkner said. “We have 82 liquor permits downtown — now some businesses have three or four permits for different kinds of sales — but we only have trouble with five or six places in the city.”

Faulkner said the A-List had representatives who attended an early session, “but then they promptly disregarded our advice.” He said after the 2010 shooting, he and the crime prevention officer who runs the Bar Safe program met with A-List reps: “We told them they need armed security at the door. They would be able to enforce rules.”

Wright — who said he thinks his club has gotten “a bad rap” over the years — said he and several other A List employees went to the Bar Safe course: “We got a lot of helpful tips, but at the end of the day — when things start happening in actual time – no safety course tells you how to stop a gunman.”

Part of the problem, Faulkner said, is that along with their regular customers, the club attracts — even markets to — “gangsters.” And he said against a lot of people’s advice, they used promoters to bring in college kids.

Add in alcohol, the macho posturing that goes on in any club, love interests and finally a weapon and you have what can be a fatal mix.

“I live two doors down from Kordero,” Darius Wilson was saying. “Right before he left that night he stopped in to see me and I told him not to go. I had a feeling it wouldn’t be right. They were only charging a dollar. ‘Everybody can afford a dollar,’ I told him. ‘You’re gonna get all kinds of folks in there.’ ”

Wilson was omniscient. Police have reports that the A-List was vastly overcrowded that night.

“It boiled down to a girl talking to one of the football players and a guy from Dayton thought the player was disrespectful to him,” Wright said.

“Sometimes those two different worlds bump into each other and things happen. College kids might come from big cities into a small town like this and stick their chests out. And a local guy might feel he’s got a rough life and he doesn’t give a %&## about some guy in college.”

In Shern’s case, he was first convicted of carrying a concealed weapon in January 2001. That same year he was sentenced to two years in prison for possession of crack cocaine. Three years later he was sentenced to six months in prison for heroin possession. Since then, he’s had numerous traffic arrests.

In an unexpected twist, Pastor Dion Sampson — who had befriended Kordero — said he also had known Shern since he was in Fairview Middle School: “Me and a few of my friends used to walk the halls in six or seven schools talking to kids. Over the years I’d see Jason and tried to get him to listen.”

But that night last September, Wright said Shern wasn’t hearing what anybody said:

“He didn’t want to talk no more. Didn’t want to listen. I felt good, though, knowing I’d got the football players to leave and we had called the police. But then here comes that Kordero kid running out the door. He said, ‘Where’s he at?’ He didn’t see (Shern) and the guy fired. Me and Kordero were right next to each other. I saw the fire (from the gun).

“At first I don’t think Kordero even knew he was hit. Everything happened so fast. One of the bullets ricocheted up into the front window and shattered the outer shell (of the two-pane glass).

“I was backing up, checking myself and asking, ‘Did somebody get hit?’ And the next thing I hear Kordero say, ‘I’m hit!’ At first I thought he was playing. He was standing up, but then he ran toward me and students who knew him grabbed him.”

Kordero had been shot in the abdomen. There was serious liver damage, among other things.

Another student was hit in the neck and would spend a few days in the hospital. A young woman was cut by flying glass and another girl was trampled as the crowd rushed from the building.

“At the time I had a pickup truck and I unlayed the bed and was trying to put Kordero in the back of it to get him to the hospital,” Wright said. “That’s when the police came. It was a bad night.”

And it quickly got much worse.

Soon after, 21-year-old Kordero Hunter was pronounced dead just a few blocks away at Miami Valley Hospital.

Violence in Dayton

Late the other evening, Kevin Hunter sat in the living room of his home on Idlewild Drive in Country Club Hills, surrounded by memories of his son.

An eye-catching portrait of Kordero — done by a girl with whom he had gone to high school — hung on the dining room wall beneath a framed photo of both Hunter sons in their prep football uniforms.

A collage of football photos — sent by Central State — was displayed on a living room wall, next to Kordero’s gold No. 24 jersey that had been autographed by the entire Marauders team and the coaches after they nearly upset the University of Dayton a day after the murder.

There were more pictures of Kordero on table tops, shelves and even atop a speaker for the music system. And a few days earlier Kevin had thrown a 22nd birthday dinner for his late son. Nearly 40 family members and friends attended.

“It’s been a year, but it still seems like it happened yesterday,” he said softly. “The hurt just never goes away. You have to try to go through it and keep moving, but I can be sitting at my desk at work or be coming home in the car or in the shower and something will trigger it and the grief will overtake me.

“Six months ago I wouldn’t have been sitting here talking to you. I wouldn’t have been able to do it. But I’ve gone through a variety of things to get me back up on my feet. I go to counseling. I have family — Kevin’s married now and I have a little grandson — and I go to the cemetery quite a bit. The day of Kordero’s birthday, I spent most of the day there.”

Kordero is buried at Mount Greenwood Cemetery beneath a stone that has a picture of him as a high school player at the top and his No. 24 CSU helmet at the bottom.

“This has been tough for our whole family,” Kevin said. “You never want to hear your child being in the news. Being all over television and the Internet for something like this. But there’s nothing you can do about it, so you just find a way to cope. And everybody does it differently.”

Kim launched the Kordero Hunter MVP Foundation to instill values and bolster opportunities for at-risk boys of middle school and high school age.

“My child was stolen from me at a time when he was most promising,” she said. “I won’t get the phone calls I used to get from him on Sundays. Won’t see him smile or see him graduate. I won’t get a chance to see the kind of man he would have been. I don’t want another parent to experience what I am, so I figure if someone could teach young men some healthier coping skills, that’s a start.

“From what I understand, the man who killed my son got angry and started shooting at the club. If someone would have gotten to him sooner in life, who knows how things might have turned out.”

While Kim and Kevin mourn differently, they are of the same mind when it comes to many issues involving the loss of their son.

“I think it’s pretty ironic that I managed to keep Kordero safe in one of the most dangerous cities in the country and then he goes to Dayton – which is a pretty small town – and he gets killed by a random shooting,” Kevin said. “I had no idea that type of violence went on there.”

Pastor Sampson – who not only did the eulogy at Kordero’s “Home Going” funeral service in Chicago, but also escorted Shern to police headquarters to turn himself in – said the violence isn’t defined so much by the town as the times.

“In a lot of ways this generation of young people has given up the ability to fight,” he said “Oh, they’ll fight each other, but they won’t fight for the right things. They won’t fight to go to school or bring peace to their neighborhood.

“We’re dealing with a generation where too many kids believe they aren’t gonna make it to 21 years old. So they say, ‘I’m gonna go out in style.’ They don’t have to give into their environment, but they also need help. When one or both parents are missing at home, kids go to the first place that validates them and often it’s the street.

“In Dayton we need more positive activities for young people. There’s nothing, so they end up in the clubs, packing out a place, all up under each other, hot, bothered, drinking, smoking, women. There’s no telling what can happen in that environment.”

CSU remembers

After Central State football practice the other day, Darius Wilson, the senior linebacker who is the heart and soul of the Marauder defense – his 17 tackles led CSU to a 28-22 upset of Urbana last week – talked not about victory, just the terrible loss of last September:

“After Kordero left to go to the club, I woke up the next morning and I had a text – ‘Rest In Peace, Kordero!’ I was like, ‘What?’

“Then I came up here to campus and everybody was crying. That’s when it hit me. I’d lost my buddy – my best friend. Him dying affected the whole team.”

E. J. Junior said Kordero’s death “brought this team together… And it still does.

“A lot of things we do still remind us of him. We chant ‘KO’ just before we go onto the field each game. That means to knock ‘em out, but it also means Kordero. There’s a poster with him on my office wall. There’s another in the lobby near the elevator and his picture is in the hallway near the meeting room. And there’s that bench over by the stadium.”

To memorialize Kordero and Jasmine Crenshaw, the track athlete who drowned in Florida after a meet last year, the school has planted a flowering crabapple and beneath it put two high-backed benches, each bearing a plaque that commemorates one of the fallen athletes.

Most of the team attended Kordero’s funeral service and current athletics director Jahan Culbreath traveled to Chicago to give the family Kordero’s game jerseys.

While Kim and Kevin appreciate all that, they would like to see some other things from the school.

“I’d like to see Central State assume some kind of responsibility,” Kim said. “They say they don’t allow outside buses on their campus, but even though Kordero drove himself, buses did take a lot of kids over to that club for what they thought would be a special Central State night. Can anybody just come on campus and lure your kids there? You don’t send your child away to college just to get called and told they’ve been killed.”

Jason Shern, the alleged killer, faces a series of charges including one count of murder and three counts of felonious assault. He’s entered not guilty pleas on all charges and his rescheduled trial is set for Nov. 5.

“My whole focus is to go down to Dayton and make sure this man is legally convicted and never sees the light of day again,” Kevin said. “I don’t want some other family to go through the horror of getting a call at 3 or 4 in the morning and being told their child no longer exists.”

Dayton homicide sergeant Dan Mauch is confident there is a strong case against Shern: “We have people who are going to testify, but we could have had a lot more. People were there and saw things, but they have chosen not to talk about it.”

That part is bothersome to Faulkner: “You see your classmate die in front of you and you can’t come forward and speak up for him? What does that say about you?”

As for the A-List, Wright said it closed for about five months after the shooting, then was reopened as Envy and some new security measures were put in place.

While Wright claims Kordero’s murder “really changed me” and took a toll on everyone there, he admitted business has picked up: “We do three times the business the A-List did.”

Recently, though, the club faced another licensing hearing before the state liquor board and Wright said he’s trying to sell the building. He denies reports he’s going to open a club at another downtown location.

“If I don’t sell this place, I might convert it to a restaurant. Have a piano. Make it upscale,” he said. “Running this club is tough now. When we had the A-List, we had older people, a dress code, there weren’t a lot of altercations. Now it’s a younger crowd. It’s a whole different dynamic. This is a generation where a lot of folks see violence as the only way to solve things.”

Kordero’s legacy

And that is why Kim – with the help of a few other family members—started the Kordero Hunter MVP Foundation.

“I took my love for what I do at school and coupled it with Kordero’s dream to work with young men and made it my passion in life now,” she said.

Since she’s a counselor at Fenger, she decided the first 12 MVP participants would come from her school.

Four of those young men – 17-year-olds Kenyotta Jones and Saviahn Irons, 15-year-old Marshawn Gray and 16-year-old Jonathan Leggitt – visited her the other day at the Foundation’s second-floor walk-up office on W. 95th Street.

There’s a large photo of Kordero in his CSU uniform on a wall. One of his Marauder jerseys was draped over the back of Kim’s chair and mixed in the belongings on her desk were a pair of greeting cards from Kordero.

“We come to check and make sure she’s on track and she checks regularly to make sure we’re on track,” Jones said.

As Kim explained it: “I wanted to reach out to young men who a lot of other people would write off as a handful or a waste. Some are kids who come from broken homes or have gang affiliations or have had issues with aggressive behavior at school. Some of them potentially could end up harming another child so I wanted to see they had alternatives and were introduced to more of what the world has to offer.”

Her foundation offers training in all kinds of areas (jobs, health, domestic violence), pushes constructive involvements (voter registration, peace rally) and includes several fun experiences. The MVP students went to a WNBA game Saturday night, will attend the Chicago Football Classic at Soldier Field next Saturday and will go to the theater after that.

Kim hopes to offer the seniors in the program – this year there are three – a scholarship worth up to $2,000. Two weeks ago she held the Foundation’s first gala Celebration of Champions at a nearby banquet center.

“It was to introduce the public to young men doing positive things and it all went beyond my dreams,” she said with a smile.

“People treated us like were special,” Leggitt said.

Pastor Sampson was the keynote speaker at the event and later marveled at the way Kim is “taking a negative and turning it into a positive.”

And that gets to the heart of the matter, Kim said: “I didn’t want to lose Kordero and then people never mentioned his name again. He lived on this earth. He mattered. I wanted to make sure my child made some kind of mark here. I wanted to make sure Kordero left a legacy.”

And later, after the boys had left, Kim pulled out one of the cards her son had sent her and gave it to you to read. It was a birthday card. Inside Kordero had printed:

“I can honestly say that the things you have taught me will stick around for another lifetime and I will pass them on to my children. I love you so much, Mom.”

Through the boys in Kordero’s foundation, Kim is trying to make sure those lessons do stick around for another lifetime.

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