In Harm’s Way: Remembering the Life of Ronald Wallace

Friday, August 31, 2012

Thirteen-year-old Ronald Wallace III had a grin almost as wide as his size 13 sneakers. He flashes it in countless family photos that his parents thumb through in their Brooklyn apartment.

“This is how I knew he was going to be a ballplayer” said his mother, Tiffany Orr, describing a snapshot of her son at age 3, his hand in the air pointing down at the wrist to show that he scored a basket in the toy hoop.

The photos, spread across her lap, form a mosaic of a life cut short.

The baby-faced teen was shot to death a block from his Brownsville home last Friday. He was on his way to McDonald’s with his older brother, his girlfriend and others when a group of boys taunted them from across the street his brother said.

When the shooting began, Ronald turned to run and was shot in the back.

The NYPD is still searching for the 17-year old suspect.

For the past week, Tiffany, 32, said she’s only been able to sleep a few hours at a time. She’s been going over and over every stage of Ronald's life, from the time he was born.

“He was the lightest baby inside the nursery,” Orr recalled, her voice cracking. “He was a chunky, smart baby."

(Photo: Ronald Wallace, 13, was shot and killed in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Kathleen Horan/WNYC)

Ronald grew up to play the small forward position on the court. He planned to play basketball during his freshman year at Richmond Hill High School in Queens. A collection of the silver and gold trophies he won over the years stand tall against a white wall in his family's spare living room (photo below).

The 5-foot-10 teen had a knack for changing his hair styles on a whim. From Mohawks to tape-ups – he was constantly trend-setting, his family said.

"He came home one day and I said you got a Mohawk?” his mother said. “It got so high — and the next thing you know he cut it off. He said he wanted something different.”

Even though he was master of his own style, his mom said he wasn’t too old to be babied—like when she would wash his face or brush his teeth for him.

"He would let me,” she said, “but then he would get mad like if his brothers was around and they had an argument they would say, ‘That's why mommy brushing your teeth.’"

Ronald’s parents are unmarried but have been together since they were teenagers themselves. They met in Brownsville and said they’ve seen their neighborhood get more dangerous over the over the decades.

"Who would do that to my child?” she asked, her head down as she wept. “He's not that kind of kid. He's not. I'm so hurt inside. No one understands what I'm going through. I'm hurt. My heart is hurt."

In the days since Ronald's death Orr said she has seen him nightly in her dreams.

“’Ma, I'm ok. Ma, I'm ok,’” she said he tells her.

“And all I hear is him bouncing that ball, bouncing the ball."

The funeral service for Ronald Wallace is scheduled at 10 a.m. on Friday Universal Temple Church of God in Brooklyn.

WNYC is profiling the life of every child in the city killed by gunfire in our series In Harm’s Way.

ronald wallace, in harm's way
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
Ronald's family says he was known for making crazy faces like the one in this photo.
ronald wallace, in harm's way
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
Ronald Wallace's father looks at photos of his late son in their Brooklyn apartment.
ronald wallace, in harm's way
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
Relatives comforted each other at Ronald's vigil.
ronald wallace, in harm's way
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
Friends and loved ones gathered at the Brownsville street corner where Ronald was shot.
ronald wallace, in harm's way
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
A makeshift memorial was created so loved ones could leave remembrances.
ronald wallace, in harm's way
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
A candlelight vigil was held to remember Ronald hours after his death.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
Ronald’s parents at his funeral.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
His silver casket being carried out of the church.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
Ronald’s prized basketball trophies next to his casket. His team uniform and flag were buried with him, according to the family.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
Mother Tiffany Orr & Grandmother Donna Orr after the funeral service at Universal Temple Church of God in Brownsville.


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Comments [9]

clayton patterson from LES NYC

this is a serious story- you captured the humanity and the goodness of the people which emphases the heartless stupidity of this violent act. A sad, but necessary article. Thanks for writing this. I hope people pay attention to this crime. clayton patterson

Sep. 01 2012 11:16 AM
Sherril from Morris Plains, NJ

I woke up to this story this morning and felt saddened to my depth. First, my sincere condolences to Ronald's parents and family. Second, thank you to WNYC for airing this series, "In Harms Way". It is the answer to the oft heard question, why do we hear about the murders or disappearances of white middle class children, but not of those of color. All children are "our" children. My grown up child lives in Harlem and I'd be lying if I said I didn't worry about her well being. I hope the killer is found and brought to justice. I wish we could find a way to reduce the violence.

Aug. 31 2012 04:49 PM
Pamela from Queens

When will we stop seeing photos of mothers and grandmothers hugging each other and weeping over another murdered young boy of color?

When will those young boys have the chance to grow up to be men rather than become just a photograph?

If the same energy devoted to the "Stop and Frisk" approach to crime control were devoted to having cops stop, learn about and create some kind of positive bonds in these communities, maybe, just maybe, there would be no more such images as the ones described above. But it has to begin with at least one person.

I also praise WNYC for bringing these tragic stories to our attention, making us aware that there are parts of this city in the grips of another kind of war.

Aug. 31 2012 04:29 PM
jane from fairfield, ct

How heartbreaking, that this boy's entire life, his parents thought and accepted this as a possible outcome for it. Now the day has come that the city has fulfilled their worst fears/ notions about the society they live in. No one in a suburban neighboorhood would have this outlook for their child, we're concerned with...taxes?...Yet this mother clearly knew and feared it could happen. How right she was. Bullet proof vests for all?

Aug. 31 2012 02:51 PM
john from office

This is a vry sad story. But, no one wants to address the social issues highlighted by this murder.

least of which was "going to McDonalds to get free food" from an employee who was stealing from his employer. That acceptance of bad behavior snowballs to the point where it is normal to shoot people in the street and it is normal to carry a gun and normal to have black youths killed by other black youths.

Aug. 31 2012 12:53 PM
Nieci P from The Bronx

My questions is, why aren't there more cops walking the beat? This would go a long way toward building community relationships and deterring crime in high crime neighborhoods.

Aug. 31 2012 10:11 AM
alissa sandler from Bergen County, NJ

My heart broke and my eyes welled with tears as I drove to work and listened to Ronald's parents reminisce about their son less than a week since he was killed. No parent should out-live a child; particularily when it can be prevented. Please extend my condolences to the Wallace family.

Thank you for sharing Ronald's story and the obituary of every person killed by a gun in NYC. Only when it's personal will there be possibility for change

Aug. 31 2012 09:32 AM

People know the person who shot this kid.
The police really needs to get some sort of reputation make-over. Recruit and maintain people from the neighborhood, work with the community to build options for youth. Celebrities should openly support the end of "no snitching" and the Ad Council should spend a good chunk of its money to this end. This summer has been extremely brutal for young, and I mean YOUNG men.

Aug. 31 2012 09:29 AM
Simcha Halpert-Hanson from Brooklyn

I wanted to say two things: Firstly, I cried this morning after this story was aired. May Ronald's memory be for a blessing and may his parents, brothers, friends and family find peace amongst the mourners of the world.

Secondly, while it is obviously sad that WNYC is having to do a series such as In Harm's Way, I am beyond thrilled that WNYC is choosing to make this oft-occurring aspect of NYC visible. Just last night, my friend, who resides in Flatbush about ten minutes from my house in Lefferts Gardens, called me up to let me know there had been a fatal shooting right outside his door and that he had run outside to find a woman bleeding profusely on the sidewalk. He held her and tried to find her pulse as her grandmother screamed next to him in grief. He called out her name and soothed her by letting her know people were with her. He held her on the sidewalk until she died.

Aug. 31 2012 08:59 AM

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