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In Harm's Way: Remembering the Life of Raphael Ward

Friday, January 18, 2013

WNYC

Sixteen-year-old Raphael Sadonte Ward, Jr., played shortstop on his Lower East Side baseball team and dreamed of wearing Yankee pinstripes one day. 

The 6-foot-1 teen known for his comedic prowess had a trademark throw to make a double play: he’d casually flip the ball to first base behind his back.

“’Behind the back toss,’ that’s what we called it,” recalled Raphael’s teammate, Jaymes Blanco, 18.

Raphael now has another distinction: he was the first youth murdered in the city this year - shot a block away from where he lived with his mother and little brother in The Baruch Houses on the Lower East Side.

Baseballs and handwritten messages scrawled with love accumulated along Columbia Street near Rivington Street where he was approached by a group who shot him once in the chest on January 4. 

Raphael’s mother, Arlene Delgado, 34, recently sat in her living room gazing at the computer screen as her son belted out Michael Jackson's Man in the Mirror in a video that showcases Raphael’s animated facial expressions.

"This was Raphael,” she said. “He was very playful. You know, he was too young to take anything so serious. Nothing was serious enough for him.”

As a single parent, she said she felt she had to be serious enough for the both of them. But he usually found ways to soften her.

“I could just finish disciplining him and he'll still grab me and hold me and he'll say, ‘Hug me back, Ma,’” she said. “’I always felt like he was trying to find the weak side of me. … He'd say, ‘Hug me back or I'm not letting you go,’ and I'd have to hug him back."

(Photo: Raphael played shortstop on many local teams over the years until he grew too tall and then switched to the outfield. Courtesy of Arlene Delgado)

At his school on West 50th Street, another memorial sprang up. Facing History School is where Raphael was known as both a class clown and a leader.

“I think he was trying to figure out which side to show at any one time," said his former freshman advisor Daniel Braunfeld, who said Raphael often set the tone for others in the classroom.

And although boisterous at times, his humor had depth to it, Braunfeld said.

Raphael’s mother said she began a new life when she got pregnant with him at 17. She now works for a hospital network as a financial representative and is in her third semester at La Guardia Community College, getting a business degree.

Delgado said the only thing that makes sense is to perform community service in Raphael's name. She’s considering opening a community center for teens to give them a place to hang out without the threat of violence.

"I’m going to save my son’s friend that’s what I’m going to do,” she said, resolutely. “Mommy's going to save your friends. You loved them? I'm going to embrace them."

A 16-year old who lives a few blocks away has been arrested in connection with the murder. Police say they're still seeking the other suspects.

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

 

ONE YEAR LATER, A MOTHER REFLECTS:

How do I begin to describe my life since my son was killed? I can tell you that everything has changed.  Since his death, we’ve been working really hard to bring awareness about gun violence through the development of The SADONTE Foundation. http://www.sadontelives.org/

Besides his smile, I want everybody to remember how much he valued his family and friends, his love for sports, art and the joy he got out of putting a smile on everyone’s face. But most of all, remember that he wanted to Live. He had hopes and dreams and because of the gun violence in our communities his dreams were snatched away.

I don’t focus on my physical, mental and emotional changes. If I sit around thinking about that less will get done.  As a mother all I ever wanted to do is bring my kids happiness. I intend to continue to do that for Raphael through the foundation. I know my son would want me to help our youth in making better decisions. No mom deserves to bury her son especially at the hands of another teen carrying a gun. 

I always think about how friendly my son was. How trustworthy he was and how he always helped, not only me but everyone around him. If you needed his help with something he’ll be there, he might get there late but he’ll be there LOL…

My hopes for the city in the year ahead are that all the politicians that were voted in take gun laws more seriously. That they make some changes, our children’s future depends on it.  Hopefully The Sadonte Foundation can help save lives, one life at a time.

Raphael Sadonte Ward, Jr.  will never ever be forgotten!!! We Love you baby!!

-Arlene Delgado

Courtesy of Arlene Delgado
Raphael and his beloved younger brother Abel.
courtesy of Arlene Delgado
Raphael as a young teen.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
Arlene Delgado watches a video of her son Raphael performing.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
Lower East Side neighbors at the memorial for Raphael near where he was shot.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
Friends of the Raphael greet each other at his memorial.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
Baseballs and a football are some of the items left for the athletic teen who was killed on January 4th.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
The intersection of Columbia and Rivington where police say the 16-year old was shot.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
In the hallway of the Facing History School in midtown where Raphael was a student, a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. about violence.

Editors:

Xana O'Neill

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Comments [6]

Destiny rodriguez from inwood new york

es destiny n when i heard about my boos family i said eh i didnt kw what happned at the moment n said eh i was at home cooking n talkinh to his mother n sayin eh que paso papi eh knowin my man hes always grindin n at work n to who jonathan is? i eman it was crazy seein n hearin about what happened i said eh im en la casa like eh papi call me when i get from work n hearn about a jonathan? i said eh he always sitin n park spots on rudgerd he was unemployed looking for a job the last time i heard afrom darky sparky gorilla n said eh es about bein here as by ya family side no matter what as my man to his family bein there means alot ? for a jacket a mormont ? omg anyhow when it comes to me i aint wit dat drama but i said eh hes my papi n im here by my man cause hes my boo! anyways es destiny rodriguez from santo domingo Y proud!

Feb. 01 2013 11:20 AM
CH from White Plains

Thanks to Kathleen Horan for a story that is usually not told. As one of the listeners commented, it's these daily, one at a time tragedies that we are not hearing. I have been glad to hear the President refer to this in the last months. Especially in NY and other big cities we have to insist on a new "ticker tape" on this violence. Without the evidence we have become to willing to write it all as street and gang violence that is "inevitable" in certain areas. We can do better.

Jan. 19 2013 07:09 AM
Shepsl from Queens, New York

While the public and (some) politicians are galvanized -- for now -- by mass tragedies like Sandy Hook Elementary, the endless tragedy of children being murdered one at a time gets scarcely a whisper in the media. One child. One family left bereft. One child murdered with an illegal weapon obtained all too easily by those with no other intent than to do harm. But it happens day in and day out, and if the public and our so-called leaders were hammered day in and day out with the news of each child's death, maybe then we'll get to the point where something is actually done to stop the all-to-easy flow of weapons caused by inadequate laws, laws that are wildly inconsistent between states, laws that foster the availability and flow of weapons. We must not just look to the headline-grabbing obvious horrors for an incentive to force action, but to the insidious horror that eats away at our society one innocent child at a time.

Jan. 18 2013 09:19 PM
Fishmael from NYC

Heartbreaking and senseless loss... our hearts go out to his family. Hope this deadlock on this gun madness will finally end.

Jan. 18 2013 08:33 PM
freddygzz

i was one of rapheals main friends i was with him that thursday before fridays tragic incident we became close this year when we were put in two classes together we also found out that we have the same birthday and same year i brought him a slice and he walked down the street eatin and cuttin jokes he said come to the lowereast saturday then we did our handshake and i said see yu this weekend bro he said alrite
.

hearing his voice singing and clowning around just made me break down crying this is unbelievable i miss him so much and i plan on joining the center when Ms.delgado opens it up

Jan. 18 2013 06:38 PM
WNYC Listener from West Village

I really appreciate this reporting and hope you will follow up when the perpetrator is found.

Raphael Ward, you had a wonderful smile.

Jan. 18 2013 02:45 PM

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