Darkness had already fallen Saturday night when Michelle Kenney drove to East Pittsburgh.
It was the first time. She finally wanted to see where her son, Antwon, died.
Twenty-four hours earlier, late Friday night, Michael Rosfeld, a former East Pittsburgh police officer, was acquitted of murder for shooting Antwon Rose II during a traffic stop last year.
John Leach was on his porch, two doors down from the grassy lot on Grandview Avenue where Rose was shot – just as he’d been on his porch about 8:40 p.m. June 19.
Leach testified for the prosecution at Rosfeld’s trial last week, telling jurors about the traffic stop, the fleeing teens, the shooting and the aftermath. He said the lights of Rosfeld’s cruiser reflected off his truck, and that’s what caught his attention.
“You know yesterday, when I pulled up, my lights flashed off his truck,” Kenney said.
The week of the trial was the first time Kenney had seen most of the witnesses, those who saw the last moments of her son’s life. She stopped her car, because even though it was chilly and after 9 p.m., Leach was on his porch, and she wanted to thank him for doing the right thing.
“When I saw that gentleman on his porch … his son came to the door,” she said. “And all I could tell him is to keep his kids safe.”
The trial — during Thursday’s testimony, late in the afternoon — was the first time she watched the viral video of her son’s death. The cellphone footage, captured by neighbor Lashaun Livingston, starts right before Rose and Zaijuan Hester ran from the car. Rose stands out in his white T-shirt. Rosfeld fires three shots, and the boy in the white T-shirt falls.
It had been played during testimony twice before, and Kenney looked away each time, her body jerking when she heard the shots.
On Thursday, she watched.
“At some point, you just have to know,” she said. “Not only that – those videos are the last videos of my son, no matter how bad they are.”
Another video was played Thursday, this one by defense attorney Patrick Thomassey.
It was 10 minutes of silent security camera footage showing Rose, Hester and Trevon Robertson pulled to the side of Cliff Street in Pittsburgh, clearing the broken glass from the bullet-damaged back windshield of Robertson’s car.
The damage came when someone returned fire at the car, a Chevy Cruze, as Hester fired out the window of the back passenger seat at a North Braddock intersection.
Thomassey played the video twice, the second time during his closing arguments. He speculated on what Rose was saying.
“What do you think Antwon Rose is saying right there to Hester,” Thomassey asked the jury. “He’s saying, ‘Man, what are we going to do? We are really effed up now.”
No, Kenney said. She knows her son – his behavior, his mannerisms, everything, she said.
“When he was on the left side of that car, standing there staring at that window, I knew he was confused,” she said. “I watched him just stand there for about 10 seconds with a dumb look on his face, and all I was thinking is that boy is saying, ‘My mom is gonna kill me.’”
She said she requested a copy of the footage. It captures some of the last moments of her son’s life.
“Because no matter what,” she said, “he’s my son.”
Kenney knew long before Friday what the verdict would be in her son’s death.
“I never thought he would go to jail,” she said of Rosfeld. “I just said that to make people listen. You have to admit, it may have been deceiving but boy, did they listen. I feel bad for that, but I had to do whatever I had to do to make people listen to what happened to my son.”
She said she got people to listen by publicly saying she trusted the criminal justice system — and that she believed Rosfeld would be convicted.
“And in doing that,” she said, “people figured out how messed up the system was. Now I’m not the only person mad. Everybody’s mad.”
The jury of five women and seven men delivered their verdict about 9:05 p.m. Friday. They deliberated for less than four hours. Kenney knew it was coming, she said, but she lamented that Rosfeld was afforded a trial by a jury of 12.
“He got to be tried by a trial of his peers and Antwon ended up in the cemetery,” she said.
No matter what her son might have done, she said, he didn’t deserve to die.
“If Antwon committed a crime, no matter what it was, he could have been arrested, they could have come later … they could have come to pick up him the next day, whenever,” she said. “And he could have gone through the legal system, and I would have had to figure it out because I’m his mom.
“Instead,” she continued, “one person decided that they would be the judge, they would be the jury and that it was time for him to die. I would have taken the trial by 12 any day.”
It’s Sunday, just a day and a half after the verdict. Supporters are coming to Hawkins Village, where she lives, in less than an hour. They plan to stand vigil, she said.
“I don’t even know what’s taking place right now. I don’t know what their plans are,” Kenney said. “I just know it involves my son, so I got to be there.”
She’s normally an organizer, the driving force behind things, she said. But right now, she’s lost.
“This changes everything. Losing Antwon changed everything. Losing a child changes everything,” she said.
She misses her son. The heartbreak that will never heal comes through in her voice.
“I would do anything to have my son back. Nothing means more to me than my son,” she said quietly, mournfully. “I miss my son so much.”
She’s angry, too.
“It’s like he took half of me,” she said of Rosfeld. “And it was the best half.”
Kenney said she has no sympathy for the man who shot her son three times from behind, who testified that he pulled the trigger because one of the teens made a threatening gesture as they ran toward Route 30. He said he thought he saw a gun.
“I hope Michael Rosfeld sees Antwon’s face all day, every day, when he sleeps, when he’s awake, when he’s driving his car,” she said, her voice measured and hard. “I hope he sees Antwon’s face in everything that he does, the same way I do. I hope he’s still up at night and can’t sleep, the same way I do.”
She wants change, she said — a change in a justice system she says favors police, and a change in the laws that say an officer can shoot a fleeing suspect in the back just because he’s fleeing.
But right now, she’s on a chair in her living room, and her best friend, Antwon’s godmother, is braiding her hair. There’s a mid-afternoon vigil to attend, and a crowd is gathering at the playground nearby.
“I need to go get around the corner,” she says. “And go be Antwon’s mom.”