Donté Wilder, 25, walked into the Double Connections grocery store on 19th Street and Girard Avenue on March 11, 2007, just as he always did in his North Philadelphia neighborhood.
Moments later, he was shot execution-style by a masked gunman and died three days afterward.
Two years later, the case has yet to be solved.
He was known to those who loved him most as a devoted father, a protective son and brother and a caring soul.
His mother, Beulah Wilder, said her son was no stranger to the Philadelphia Police Department. Her son was “no angel,” she said, but the incident shouldn’t have happened.
“It’s still an ongoing investigation,” said Wilder, an employee of Temple’s Office of Academic Records. “They have someone in custody, but he doesn’t want to talk.”
As she prepared to bury her son, Wilder met Shirley Boggs of Mothers United Through Tragedy. Wilder said Boggs comforted her family and called every day to check on her.
Unfortunately, stories like Wilder’s are all too familiar to Boggs, CEO and founder of MUTT. She formed the organization in 2003 to provide assistance, support and help for the loved ones and victims of violence. She traveled to crime scenes and held hands of mothers as they took their first trips to the morgue. She also makes herself available to the public 24 hours a day through the company hotline.
Due to a lack of government funding and lack of donations, Boggs runs the organization from home. But through her faith in God, she said she has found the strength to move on and fight for those without a voice.
A victim of violence herself, Boggs’ son Quentell, 20, was shot on the streets of Philadelphia on Aug. 13, 1997. After winning a sum of money gambling on the streets, word traveled through the neighborhood. A 20-year-old North Philadelphia man sought to rob Quentell but ran into his identical twin brother, Quentin, first.
Unable to tell the difference between the two men, the gunman shot Quentin once in the leg, but he survived.
Quentell wasn’t so lucky. He was shot four times – once in the back, and then the gunman stood over him and pumped three more bullets into his helpless, lifeless body. Quentell made it to the hospital that night but never made it out.
Twelve years later, Boggs still feels the pain from the loss of her firstborn son, but she stays strong for the people she needs to help every day.
“You can’t help heal people if you’re not healed yourself,” she said. “It’s hard, but you gotta go through for your breakthrough.”
In the time following her son’s death, she battled feelings of depression and thoughts of suicide. But instead of taking her own life, she put her grief to work and formed MUTT.
The organization’s mission is to bring social change and awareness regarding the misuse of firearms through education and to remember loved ones – “stolen dreams”– who tragically lost their lives on the streets.
“By helping others, my son’s spirit lives on through me,” Boggs said. “I have gone from being a victim to victorious.”
MUTT preserves the memories of its loved ones through community events and programs. The seventh-annual Walk for Life April 26 honored the 333 lives of those murdered in Philadelphia in 2008. Approximately 30 people marched down North Broad Street from Spring Garden Street to City Hall, chanting “walk, walk, walk for life.”
In the intimate gathering, family members shared bittersweet memories of their loved ones and gave words of encouragement.
One by one, people thanked Boggs for her dedication and support in their times of need, including Mohamad Amer. Two years ago, the 22-year-old killed a 19-year-old while drinking and driving.
“No one else gave me a chance to speak,” he said. “I was young and dumb, drinking and driving, not knowing how precious life is…I wish I could trade places with the victim.”
Loved ones of homicide victims and MUTT volunteers also spoke, but there was an eerie trend among the mothers – many of them knew each other prior to their sons’ deaths.
“Her son was my son, and my son was her son,” one parent said.
“It says something about the neighborhood that all these women knew each other,” said Aziza Kinteh, who was asked to speak at the event. She is a poet, author and Temple alumna.
Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, who made a brief appearance at the event, said there have been 84 murders in Philadelphia so far this year. He said the good news is 75 percent of last year’s cases were solved, but the bad news is the families of victims who make up the remaining 25 percent still live in anger, sadness and fear.
Wilder remains among the mothers without answers for the deaths of their sons. She knows little information about what happened that day and is still unsure of what made her son a target.
“They accused him of having drugs and such, but I don’t know. My son never brought anything like that to my house,” she said. “If I knew my son was involved in anything, I would’ve gotten him out of there.”
Since Donté’s death, she tries to remain strong for her other three children and her grandchildren – Amani, 8, Amil, 6, and 1-year-old Dante, whom he fathered shortly before his death.
But there’s only so much she can bear.
“My heart just beats, but nothing is there,” she said. “Nothing will ever be the same.”
Wilder refuses to forgive the gunman.
“I’m never going to forget. [The gunman] caused pain to my family,” she said. “As I get older and my strength gets better, I may, but he needs forgiveness from God. [He needs] forgiveness from [Donté’s] kids.”
Boggs went through a period of anger toward the gunman, who was eventually brought to justice and sentenced to jail time. Faced with the responsibility to provide “hope for the hopeless,” Boggs turned her anger into a passion for her cause.
“We have to become our children’s voice,” she said. “Their voices are silent. Ours aren’t.”
Despite what she has done with the community and her organization, she humbly refuses the credit for doing so.
“It’s not me,” Boggs said. “It’s God.”
Sherri Hospedales can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.