ST. PETERSBURG — They huddled in the rain, shielding the flickering candles under umbrellas or cupped hands, and listened.
Yvonne Howlett spoke of her nephew, Jermaine Cummings. He was shot and killed last year trying to break up a fight. Howlett, 65, said she also lost her niece to gun violence in Georgia.
Diane Bynes, 58, remembered her grandson, Di’ontae Burr, shot in March while driving his high school graduation present: a 2010 blue Nissan Altima. He crashed into a garage and died at the hospital. He was 19.
Mary Scott cried for her brother, Marquis Scott, gunned down a year ago near his grandmother’s house on a bike his dad had given him. His sister, 16, said she was afraid to love her family as much as she did. She knows now what it’s like to love someone hard but lose them anyway.
Thursday night marked one year since Scott was killed at age 20. Friends and family members gathered to honor his memory and plead for information that could lead to an arrest in the unsolved case. But his parents, Maress and Marjorie Scott, also wanted to call attention to gun violence, and the many lives it has claimed in St. Petersburg and beyond.
The couple carried a tri-fold poster board that gave a sense of the city’s toll in recent years: 24 faces, with Scott smiling in the center wearing the red cap and gown of Northeast High School.
“We’re here,” Maress Scott said, “to glorify God, bring awareness to gun violence and memorialize our son.”
The 51-year-old father was the last person to see his son alive the night of Sept. 17, 2019. It had been a tumultuous year for his son, a former captain of the Northeast football team. He spent the spring in the Pinellas County jail on an attempted murder charge stemming from another shooting in November 2018.
In that incident, Sean Flournoy, now 20, shot a man he was giving a ride to, police said, and Marquis Scott pushed the man out of the car. The man survived but was paralyzed from the chest down. Flournoy’s case is still pending, according to court records. His lawyer could not be reached for comment.
But since the shooting, his family said Scott was turning his life around. On the night of his death, his father had taken him out to eat, then dropped him off at his grandmother’s house on 24th Street S, near a construction training program he was attending. The father had just gotten home to Pinellas Park when he got the call to come back.
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The year since saw the whole family grapple with losing a loved one to gun violence:
Maress Scott watching the grief leave his wife breathless, and feeling helpless to comfort her knowing he could never understand what it was like to carry, then lose, a child. Marjorie Scott, watching her other children suffer without their brother. Grandmother Mary Walker turning away when she passed Yale Street, avoiding the intersection of her grandson’s death altogether.
But they’ve found new purpose, too, his parents said. They never knew how many people their son had helped, or left an impression with. Marjorie Scott, 50, calls the messages from church members or her son’s many friends “little gifts.”
“And they get me through it,” she said.
They’re forming a nonprofit, which they want to call “Quis for Life" after their son. Their goal for the organization is to spread awareness about gun violence, improve communication between neighborhoods, and provide services such as counseling and job assistance to boys and men in the community.
They’re looking for justice, Maress Scott said, but not vengeance.
“We forgive the people who hurt our son,” he said. “We want them to experience a pricking of the heart that causes them to be a better person.”
Thursday’s vigil began at Mary Walker’s house, then the group traced Marquis Scott’s bike ride to the site of his death a half-mile away, chanting “Justice for Marquis” and “No more violence.”
Toward the end of the evening, Bynes approached Maress Scott to thank him. She mentioned her grandson, and how he’d just died in March.
“Six months ... Man, that’s fresh," he said, eyes wide, shaking his head.
Then he turned back to her.
“I pray that he receives justice," he told her. "I pray that you find peace.”
The family of Marquis Scott asks anyone with information about their son’s 2019 murder to come forward. They set up an email for people to submit tips: email@example.com. They can also call the St. Petersburg Police Department Homicide Unit at (727) 893-7164, the non-emergency line at (727) 893-7780 or send an anonymous tip by texting “SPPD” and your tip to TIP-411. Callers to the family or police can remain anonymous.