Vigil held for slain 21-year-old woman

Neighbors and friends at a vigil for Aaliyah Alder at Forest Houses in Morrisania on March 29. Photo: Annie Nova

Aspiring model was gunned down in Morrisania while protecting a friend

Family members and friends of Aaliyah Alder held a vigil on Wednesday evening for the 21-year-old, who was shot in the head and killed on Monday night in a stairwell at Forest Houses in Morrisania.

Alder had come over to help a friend, who had been arguing with a man in the building, according to the NYPD. Police have arrested Davaughn Johnson, 22, in connection with the shooting.

Friends described a young woman who was bubbling with enthusiasm. A friend of the victim’s recalled that just a few nights ago she had stayed awake until sunup while Alder told her about her dreams of becoming a famous model. Another friend said Alder was excited that she was set to move into her own apartment on Friday.

The Forest Houses courtyard at Tinton Avenue and East 163rd Street was packed with grief-stricken friends and family, sobbing and holding up white candles at the vigil.

“Ain’t nobody wants to see their child in the grave,” said Ife Charles, the director of Save our Streets, a group that works to prevent gun violence. “She could have been one of our doctors, one of our lawyers. She could have been president.”

Next to the speakers, Alder’s mother stood. Whenever anyone referred to her daughter by her nickname, “Lili,” she collapsed into sobs.

“I can’t sleep, I can’t eat,” she cried out, then asked how her daughter came to die in the hallway while no one intervened on her behalf.“It’s like 15 different stories – lies, lies, lies,” she yelled, and repeated, “Over an argument.”

Alder recently graduated from Save Our Streets’ first job training program and landed a job at Dylan’s Candy Bar in Midtown.

“She was one of the people who proved that it worked,” said James Rivera, Save Our Streets’ program manager. The young woman then went on, Rivera said, to help others in the neighborhood find work.

Reverend J. Loren Russell, a community activist and former candidate for city council, said he was disgusted to be attending yet another vigil for a shooting victim.

“I’ll be 60 and this has been going on my whole life,” Russell said. When are we going to stop? We’re shooting girls now?”

Last year, a 29-year-old mother of three from Adams Houses in Longwood, Jessica White, was gunned down while trying to protect her children from stray gunfire.

One of Alder’s close friends, Qudisha Archer, 26, said she was in disbelief.

“There’s no words,” Archer said. “I’m heartbroken. She did no wrong to nobody. She was always bubbly and laughing.”

City Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson stepped onto a bench to address the mourners. “It is disrespectful that we have no regard for life in this community,” Gibson said. “Please put the guns down.”

John King, 54, a member of a shooting prevention group Guns Down Life Up, told the gathering about a new educational program at Lincoln Hospital aimed at reducing gun violence.

“I used to be one of these guys in the neighborhood doing bad things,” said King, who spent 17 years in prison. “I made a pact that when I got out I’d do something to help people.” He said he’s been to more than 50 vigils in the last two years for people fatally shot in New York City – many of them in the South Bronx.

Hakiem Yahmadi, 65, of Save Our Streets said he’s been attending vigils for shooting victims in the neighborhood since his 30-year-old son was shot and killed in Mott Haven in 2001. “It was over a girl,” he said, pointing out that trivial disputes are often the trigger for shootings such as the one that took his son’s life.

“They have access to guns like going into a store to get a soda,” said Yahmadi.

At a meeting of Community Board 1 the evening after the vigil, Public Advocate Letitia James told board members she would see to it that grief counseling is provided for anyone who saw the dead woman lying in the stairwell, and agreed that the city should fund grief counseling for those who witness violent incidents such as Alder’s murder.

The story was updated on March 31.