For family, loss of Corey Jones runs deep on anniversary of his death

There was one day last week, Clinton Jones Sr. can’t remember exactly when, but he and his brother, Mark, were doing some yard work outside Jones’ Pompano Beach home.

He needed a tool, and without thinking called out for his son, Corey. The silence that followed brought with it the same heart-wrenching feeling that sometimes wakes him up in the middle of the night.

The nightmare is always the same. Corey is running in the dark. His heart is beating fast. The dark figure behind him is shooting again, and again and again. Corey falls, breathes in the scent of grass and dirt, and tastes blood.

» RELATED: Full coverage of Corey Jones shooting

Corey Jones and Nouman Raja, the now former Palm Beach Gardens police officer who shot the 31-year-old drummer to death a year ago Tuesday, are for many in Palm Beach County and South Florida the local faces of a raging national debate over the shooting of young black men by police.

To Jones Sr., however, Corey was the son who would call and greet him with a cheerful “Hey, Cat,” the boy he still misses so much he finds himself calling others — his brother, his nephews, anyone really — by his name.

“I do it all the time,” Jones said. “Most times they’ll just look at me. And I’ll say something like, ‘Man, that Corey sure was a good boy,’ and we’ll just keep working.”

Corey Jones never made it home on Oct. 18. His car broke down on Interstate 95 at PGA Boulevard after he left a gig as a drummer with the reggae band Future Prezidents. Raja, who is of Pakistani descent, approached in plainclothes and shot him three times after a brief confrontation, once in each arm and once with a bullet that rested near his heart and killed him.

Sometimes, Jones Sr. says, it’s hard to believe it already has been a year since his son died. Other days, time moves too slowly.

Corey’s siblings, Melissa Jones and Clinton “C.J.” Jones Jr., struggle with the same highs and lows.

Like his father, C.J. Jones says he feels his brother is still with him. On the day in June when Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg announced his office was charging Raja with manslaughter by culpable negligence and attempted murder, C.J. Jones was in no rush to read Raja’s arrest report.

He was the one, before prosecutors released that information publicly, who predicted his brother never shot his own gun at Raja and dismissed Raja’s claims that he shot Corey because Corey had come at him with a gun. He also said he saw a vision of his brother soon after the shooting and knew that he was running away when he was shot, an assumption that investigators appear to back, court records show.

And before his brother’s funeral, when The Palm Beach Post uncovered phone records that appeared to show Corey Jones was on the line with roadside assistance at the time of the shooting, most people outside the investigation thought it was a long shot that the 53-minute call spent mostly on hold would have captured Corey’s final moments — except for C.J.

As it turned out, prosecutors revealed in June, Corey Jones had connected to the recorded line less than two minutes before Raja approached him, and the sounds of their entire exchange were recorded. Raja, who approached Corey Jones’ broken-down SUV after 3 a.m. in plainclothes, was recorded repeatedly asking Corey if he was “good” before yelling at him to get his hands up two seconds before he started firing, a transcript of the recording revealed.

“I knew,” C.J. Jones, the former NFL wide receiver, said last week. “Everything Corey said is exactly what I knew he would say. Corey was a part of me. He was always with me, day in, day out, his whole life. I know him better than anyone. Nobody had to tell me.”

Wears brother’s shirt

Intuition comes with a price.

Denise Callahan-Jones says her husband doesn’t sleep. Everywhere he goes, he wears either his brother’s favorite Oakland Raiders jersey or one of several T-shirts made in his honor. It’s as much a political statement as a desire to keep some part of his brother with him.

Corey’s sister, Melissa, was married this summer to a man her brother never met. In a news conference after Raja’s arrest, when a reporter in the crowd rehashed details about the way her brother died and asked if she thought about how bloody and horrific the scene must have been, her eyes widened and welled with tears until one of the family’s attorneys stepped in and deflected the question.

Later, she repeated what she said the night after she helped prepare Corey’s body for burial from a death that came nine years after the siblings buried their mother, Anita Banks-Negron.

“If I didn’t have God in my life, I don’t think I would be standing now,” she said. “It would be too much to bear.”

Sometimes, Jones Sr. said, it does become overwhelming. In church, when he sees a young man on the drums, it reminds him too much of his son and he has to go outside to gather himself.

Corey’s uncle, the Rev. Steven Banks, not only has his nephews eyes, but was one of the uncles closest to him among the many relatives on his mother’s side. Earlier this week, he remembered giving his nephew tips on how to play the drums, like how to keep his shoulders down, how to carry a 16-count.

“Everyone’s family has a kid like Corey,” he said. “A kid with so much potential. He went to school, he did all the right things, he had everything ahead of him.

Monthly vigils

Though they weren’t family, Clarence Ellington III, a close friend, and Boris “Bo” Simeonov, bandleader of Future Prezidents, shed tears over several interviews, characterizing Corey as both brother and friend.

Simeonov, Ellington and cousins such as Chivalrik Daughtry often join a revolving cast who show up to the monthly vigils C.J. Jones hosts at the site of his brother’s death off I-95. It is the last standing memory of a number of protests, marches and rallies held locally in the weeks and months since his brother’s death.

Though Corey’s relatives spoke little of Raja in recent days, at the shooting site every month, family and friends kick around theories of what happened.

C.J.’s daughters, Corey’s nieces Tyrina and Nariyah, are usually somewhere nearby with a gaggle of friends from their softball teams. They keep away from the conversation and spend their time walking to and from the nearby Doubletree Hotel or holed up in their mother’s car posting videos on Snapchat.

Last week, Nariyah, 9, decided she didn’t want to talk about her uncle, nor read one of the dozens of poems and letters she has written to and about him since he died.

“I miss him,” is all she would say before she burst into tears.

Imagination takes over

Tyrina, 13, has had similar moments. Like her father and grandfather, she still wakes from nightmares.

Callahan-Jones said the recent death of a baby pet hamster sent her oldest daughter into a tailspin. After they talked a while, Tyrina told her mother she thought Uncle Corey would have appeared to her in a dream by now.

No visions come to her like the ones her father has. No messages beyond the goodbye she never knew would be their last.

She never sees him. So, she imagines him.

She sees him in every good and beautiful thing, she said Wednesday, like the rainbow that appeared to come out of nowhere when she was up to bat at a recent softball tournament. She said she took it as a sign that her uncle, who in life had attended nearly every one of her games, had come back for one more.

“I hit the ball towards it,” Tyrina said last week.

As for Corey’s father, Jones Sr. says his son blessed him even after death. As a building manager for the Delray Beach Housing Authority, Corey always was telling his supervisors about how much his father, a carpenter, had taught him.

So when a few buildings needed renovation work earlier this month, they called Jones Sr. Sitting in a building on 7th Avenue Wednesday, Jones recalled giving his son all the books he had when he was studying to be a general contractor, a job he had hoped his son would pursue as well.

He found out after Corey died that Corey had several open books laid out on the floor of his apartment, all the ones his father had given him.

On Wednesday, he said when he’s tempted to feel angry, the memory of his son is what delivers him from the pain.

“Because of Corey’s death, I’ll be damned if I allow a white man, a black man, a Mexican — it doesn’t matter what race you are — I won’t let anyone stop me from loving,” he said. “Because I loved, and I still love my son.”

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