Peyton John “PJ”Evans was, according to all accounts, having an 8-year-old dream day when everything fell apart around him and everything he loved.
He had just finished football practice the afternoon of Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021. It was a friendly match with the team he would join next week. He would then enter the third grade.
PJ was known as the biggest kid in his class, and he had been bragging to his mom the entire car ride home about how he was a better football player than all the other kids on the field, and how he couldn’t wait for the season to begin.
“He just was talking trash like, ‘Yeah mom, you saw me. I was crushing them. Man, they was soft, they was soft,’”Tiffani Evans, his mother, told Inside Edition Digital. “He was like, ‘I’m telling you, I’m about to have a good season.’”
They arrived at PJ’s aunt’s house after the practice and PJ quickly settled into his meal with his cousins, one hand on a taco, another on a PlayStation controller. It was Tuesday and the extended family got together once per week to enjoy taco Tuesdays, a family tradition.
Tiffani, her mother, was sitting on the front porch with her partner when they were interrupted by a car-by shooting. This radically changed their lives.
“Literally all we heard was ‘Pow, pow, pow, pow, pow, pow, pow,’”She spoke. “It was probably like 30 rounds just going off.”
She ran back in and saw her 8-year old son slumped over the console, with his taco still in hand. A bullet escaped from his side and lodged in his head.
“It was the worst day of my life,”Tiffani spoke.
Tiffani’s son died almost one year ago. His bedroom has been decorated with portraits of him created post mortem, the framed jersey he wore in that season, as well as life-size cutouts. All of his belongings and the place he slept are still intact.
Many in the community have supported Tiffani in the wake of her son’s murder, from a local funeral home that specializes in serving families affected by violent crime, to her son’s young friends who celebrate PJ’s would-be milestones, to the authorities who have been diligent in helping her get justice.
Tiffani credits the community’s support for her survival today.
“I’m just trying to relearn me, because I built my life over the last eight years being a mother and trying to be everything for him,”She spoke. “I lost myself, you know what I’m saying? So just relearning who I am as a person.”
Tiffani Evans’s Day: Everything changed for Tiffani Evans
Tiffani recollects the moments immediately after shooting like it was yesterday.
She was the last one into the home, and the last to spot PJ’s slumped over body, but the first to run to his side. Even though PJ was big – he stood at 5 feet tall and weighed 144 pounds at the time, at least half a foot taller and double the weight of the average 8-year-old – Tiffani remembers suddenly gaining what she called “Hercules”Strength to lift him up and place him on the ground.
She relied on the CPR techniques she learned in the police academy and began working on PJ, but she wasn’t able to restart his breathing.
She could only think about how long it took for the ambulance to arrive. “It probably took the ambulance like 10 minutes to get to me,”She recalled. “I’m just like, ‘Why is it taking so long?’ It just felt like an hour.”
PJ was shot in his head. “a main part of the brain,” Tiffani later learned. Tiffani later learned that the bullet entered his ear but never left.
Tiffani realized he wasn’t coming back when the ambulance took him away.
“I told my partner when I went outside, I said, ‘My son is gone. They ain’t had the lights on the ambulance. I’m not stupid,’”Tiffani spoke. “I’m not stupid. I knew my son was gone.”
She continued praying on the drive to the children’s hospital, but the moment she arrived, she was greeted by a doctor who told her he had done everything he could, but PJ was dead. Tiffani was with her son.
“I stayed with him for a while, just talking to him, loving on him, kissing on him, smelling him,”She spoke about the moments that came after.
Burying Her Child
Tiffani wanted an open casket funeral.
“He was everybody’s kid,”Tiffani spoke. “Why not let everybody see him one last time? He deserved that.”
Though the practice isn’t typical for those who suffered violent deaths, a funeral home in the community, Compassion and Serenity Funeral Home, specializes in performing restorative art for victims of violent crimes like PJ. Funeral home co-owner Wes Chavis III’s mission is to present the deceased at their best during their open casket funeral.
“Tiffani, she was a sweetheart,” the funeral home’s co-owner Wes Chavis III told Inside Edition Digital, “We’ve served the family before. It’s so hard, you don’t know what to say to people when they keep coming back to you. We have so many families that have come to us three or four times in one year.”
Compassion and Serenity Funeral Home is located squarely in Prince George’s County, Maryland – a suburb on the borders of D.C. and Virginia that has been plagued by violent crime since the 1980s. According to data shared by Inside Edition Digital officials from Prince George County, the county’s homicide rate peaked at 161 deaths in 2005. It has seen a decline in crime rates between 2009 and 2019, with fewer homicides being investigated over a longer period of time.
Many believed 2012 would be the end of the troubled era in Prince George County, which saw the lowest number of homicides since 1986. Locals and experts fear that the homicide rate will rise once more after there was an increase in crime in 2020. Many blame this on the COVID-19 pandemic, its impact on desperation, and mental health issues.
In 2021, the year PJ was killed, Prince George County authorities investigated 136 homicides, a spokesperson with the police department told Inside Edition Digital – the highest number in 15 years. Prince George County authorities investigated 45 homicides so far in 2022.
Authorities in the D.C. Metropolitan Area, which includes Prince George County, investigated 226 suspected murders in 2021. This is 14% more than the previous year. There was no other crime that rose in this area at such an alarming rate.
So far this year, D.C. Metropolitan police have investigated 104 homicides – a number up 17% from this time last year, putting 2022 on course to peak in suspected homicides once again.
“It’s on an all-time high, and it’s scary, it’s crazy. You don’t even want to go out at night,”Tiffani spoke. “It’s sad, we can’t even enjoy the weather, and I know it’s going to get worse this summer.”
Tiffani’s worries are not unique. Residents are also worried about the rising trend.
“Our young people are getting killed at, actually, record numbers,”Clayton Marshall’s mother, Cathy Marshall, was killed and shot to death in April. “We’re burying our children every day, and this has got to stop.”
Prince George County is dominated Black. According to census data, 64.4% identify themselves as Black or African American. As of July 2021, 19.5% of the population was Hispanic or Latino.
Compassion and Serenity Funeral Home is sensitive to ensuring that grieving families don’t feel like their loved ones were simply part of a wider statistic.
“Primarily, we service the Black community,” Chavis said. “We do quite a bit of homicides because of the area we’re in, close to D.C. where the homicide rate is up. As it gets warmer, usually the homicide rate goes up, but the homicide rate’s been up pretty much [all the time] lately.”
Chavis and Dani Skinner, Chavis’ partner, make it their mission organize exceptional services. “so they don’t feel like it’s, ‘Wham, bam, thank you ma’am,’” Chavis said. “We want them to know that we really cared and we put our best into representing your loved one for this day.”
That began with restorative work that allowed PJ’s loved ones to view him one last time.
“Restorative art is to recreate natural form and color … If it’s some structural damage, we recreate the structure (that was) damaged and create proper form and the proper color,”He stated.
The bullet entered PJ’s temple and distorted the side of his face, but did not leave an exit wound, making his restoration more straightforward, Chavis said. “I used a little wax and we put a little make up over it and his hair, and it was totally concealed,” Chavis said.
Tiffani only saw PJ after the shooting, and had bandages covering his face. He said he looked flawless. “He looked like he was asleep. He looked like he was at peace,”She spoke. “He made sure my son went home well.”
The End of a Senseless Death
The days that followed PJ’s murder are hazy for Tiffani.
“I don’t think we slept for like two days. I stayed up. I ain’t get no rest,”She spoke. “And it wasn’t just me. Nobody around me. Everybody that was around. Nobody went home. Nobody went home. Everybody stayed with us. We never slept. We stayed up.”
In the days that followed, Tiffani’s mother’s home was home base for her and her loved ones. There were at least 50 family members present at the house, all there to support them as they went through their grief.
“If it was standing outside crying, or whatever, we had a full house the whole month,”She recalled. “Every day, people just bringing food, just loving on us. You’ve got to have that, because if not, we would have lost it.”
That sense of love and community continues on a year after PJ’s death. The family still gathers for Taco Tuesdays, PJ’s favorite family dinner of the week now turned into a tradition his loved ones continue in his honor.
“Every Tuesday, we’ve got a house full. Every Tuesday, my family and friends, they never fail us,”She spoke. “And at 8:21 pm, everybody, we celebrate his life. We scream, we laugh, we cry, whatever.”
Seeking Justice in PJ’s Murder
Twenty-one days after PJ was killed, Prince George’s County authorities arrested the men they said were responsible: George Shamman, 23; Desmond Nkwocha, 21; and his brother Mark Nkwocha, 23.
According to police, the trio was in a white sedan and were heading towards another group of adult men when one of them opened fire.
Police believe that the shooting was in retaliation to another shooting the day before. Police later learned that a 21 year old claimed that he thought he was the intended victim because he had fired at three suspects the day prior.
Only PJ was able to capture the shot, as he had been in the house.
Police said Shamman and the Nkwocha siblings were indicted on dozens charges, including attempted first degree murder and weapons-related charges.
They have not yet made their pleas and are due to start in September or December.
Shamman’s lawyer denied Inside Edition Digital’s request for comment. The Nkwocha brothers’ attorneys have not yet responded to a request for comment.
According to police, the suspect, who believed he was being targeted, was also charged for attempted murder, first degree assault, use a firearm in committing a violent crime, and reckless endangerment. News reports.
For those who loved PJ Evans, Life Today
Tiffani’s grieving process continues, but she now finds comfort in the huge community that loved PJ.
PJ was slated for a football team, and the people who were supposed to be her teammates treat her like one of them.
“My son, he passed away 20 minutes after he was just with his teammates, so it was kind of hard for them, they ain’t understand it,”She spoke. “We was just on the football field with him, and now he’s gone, so they took it very hard. But they loved on me, they loved me and they still do. Those are my boys for life.”
She’s as dedicated to the team as they are to her. She’s donated to the team football jerseys and gym bags with the words “Long Live PJ”They are inscribed along with their names or numbers.
“I made sure his team was good. I wanted to make sure they had stuff that honored my son when they’re walking on the football field,”She spoke.”
On what would have been PJ’s ninth birthday, she threw a birthday party for all of his friends. “I wanted to have all the kids in one place, just to have fun and honor my son because he wasn’t here to celebrate his birthday,” she said.
However, it is impossible to heal after the death of a child.
“It’s kind of hard. My partner, she wanted to do something for my birthday this year – I turn 35 in August – and I’m just like, ‘I don’t even want to do it. My son not here to celebrate this birthday, what is it for me?’”She spoke.
Every morning, Tiffani says she makes it a point to drive PJ’s younger stepbrother to school – a moment of family bonding that is all the more important following PJ’s death. “He really misses his brother because that was his housemate, that was his best friend,”Tiffani spoke. “He watches his funeral literally every other day on his iPad, he knows how to pull it up. He looks at the funeral and he cries.”
But she remembers PJ would have wanted her to carry on – a small piece of encouragement she passes along. “My oldest [stepson], he’s taking it really hard. He’s trying to get out of high school, and at the end of the day, I tell him, ‘You got to keep pushing, for PJ. At the end of the day, he’s not here to walk the stage, I want to see you walk the stage and honor your brother,’”Tiffani spoke.