In the aftermath of the fatal shootings of Sharnez Hill and her 3-month-old daughter, family members and local leaders say the young mother would have wanted the community to come together exactly as it did Saturday.
At Saturday’s funeral for Hill and her daughter, Neziah, loved ones paid tribute through song and dance. They cried and embraced, wiping away tears and giving one another tissues. Their outfits matched the pink-and-white floral arrangements next to the white shared casket.
Hours later, after the Hills were taken to Oakwood Cemetery in a horse-drawn carriage from the United Nations Church in South Richmond, their family, friends and neighbors gathered again in the courtyard of The Belt Atlantic apartment complex, formerly known as Midlothian Village. There, they continued to celebrate the victims’ lives in a block party that included food and even more music and dancing.
As countless people in the past week have tried to make sense of the killings, the Rev. Donte McCutchen said it would have been too difficult for Sharnez Hill, his cousin, to leave this earth without her only daughter, the one she had waited so long to meet.
“I’ve heard today that we are pissed off and angry. This hurts, and we will not pretend as if it does not,” he said. “Be encouraged that God offers hope ... and promises to heal.”
Quoting the musical artists Al Green and Boosie in his eulogy for his cousin, McCutchen counseled the mourners: Let’s stay together, and love your family.
Sharnez Hill’s loved ones — who knew her as “Shy-Shy” — said she was the life of the party and that they intended to celebrate her memory that way.
Hill and her infant daughter were fatally shot about 6:30 p.m. on April 27 while they were outside at The Belt Atlantic apartments on Midlothian Turnpike, just east of Belt Boulevard.
An 11-year-old girl, a 15-year-old girl and a 29-year-old woman also were injured when a group of gunmen opened fire in the courtyard outside the apartments. Police said all five victims were bystanders, not intended targets.
Authorities have arrested five people in connection with the shooting.
Hours after the shooting, patrol officers arrested Donald Hemmings, 22, of Chesterfield County and two Richmond men, Shyheem Martin, 23, and Shamondrick Perry, 19. They have all been charged with conspiracy to commit murder.
With assistance from a U.S. Marshals Service regional fugitive task force and the FBI, police arrested Kevon Bynum, 18, on Thursday night and charged him with conspiracy to commit murder. His twin brother, Kavon Bynum, was arrested Tuesday night on a similar charge.
On Thursday, Richmond prosecutor Brooke Pettit confirmed that authorities believe an argument on social media led to the gunfire. Police believe that more than 50 shots were fired from at least three weapons, including an assault rifle.
In the wake of the shooting, area residents and city leaders have rallied around the victims and those who have been traumatized by the incident.
Those efforts led several people who live outside of the apartment community to share resources for Saturday’s block party.
“We thought this would be a good distraction, a good way to reclaim the space where this tragedy occurred,” said the Rev. Robin Mines, president of the Swansboro West Civic Association and associate minister of Hood Temple AME Zion Church.
“We don’t want to be remembered for that,” Mines said. “We’ve got to be remembered for a good time, a healthy environment, a fun place and safety.”
Approximately 50 businesses donated food — including fried chicken, spaghetti, meatballs, macaroni and cheese, homemade cupcakes, candy apples, and other snacks and sweets — and other items for the community event. Teachers and administrators from nearby George Wythe High School and Westover Hills Elementary School also donated books and other items.
Several friends and people involved in organizing the event, on the day before Mother’s Day, said it was a fitting tribute to Hill, who had wanted nothing more than to be a mother — and had been one for only three months before she and her child were killed. Sunday would have been her first Mother’s Day as a parent.
“It hurts me because those babies there were around my daughter’s age,” Nyiaka James said. “It’s time for a change. That’s our message.”
James, one of the lead organizers of Saturday’s event, said she heard about the tragedy and posted on Facebook about taking food to The Belt Atlantic. She said a Richmond nonprofit community group called The Village Against Violence also helped sponsor and coordinate the event.
Several of the coordinators wore matching pink T-shirts with the phrase “Mom Against Violence.”
James and the other coordinators said they hope that the work and message will be heard well outside of the neighborhood, to prevent violence from occurring elsewhere in the city.
PHOTOS: Mother's Day cookout at The Belt Atlantic apartments
Businesses donate food, books, toys and gifts to celebrate Mother's Day during a picnic at Belt Atlantic Apts. Sat., May 8, 2021. The event was to honor Sharnez Hill, her daughter and the other victims of the recent shooting in the community.