‘A long way away from peace.’ Community mourns gun violence victim Benyamin Hawthorne Jr.

Under a bright balloon arch and an even brighter sky, a somber vigil for teen gun violence victim Benyamin Hawthorne, Jr. was held Wednesday evening at Town Fork Creek Greenway.

Hawthorne, 17, was fatally shot on the basketball court at the Kansas City park around 6:30 p.m. on May 16. Police have said the shooting followed an argument among multiple people on the court.

Hawthorne’s family did not receive the call that he had died until May 19, after days of searching.

““Every time I blink, I see his face,” Benyamin’s father, Benyamin Hawthorne Sr., said Wednesday.

Right beside the court where Hawthorne Jr. died, family members adorned a cross with photos, candles and roses. Shirts were distributed to about 20 mourners, bearing Benyamin’s picture with the message, “Stop the violence.”

“He was an amazing man, at a young age,” Hawthorne Sr., said Wednesday. “He loved to just bring joy to anybody he came across.”

Benyamin’s father described his son as gentle and spiritual, with strong ties to the church. He had a strong hand in raising his three brothers and sisters, Hawthorne Sr. said.

“If you knew him, you loved him, Hawthorne Sr. said. “...He didn’t care if he looked goofy. Whatever he was doing, he was just happy to do, just being a man in his own skin.”

Hawthorne’s sisters have lost both of their brothers in the last two years. Benyamin’s half-brother Karvell Stevens, 6, was killed in 2022.

Though deeply troubled by Karvell’s death, Hawthorne Jr. tried to lead with kindness, his father said. He enjoyed working on houses with his grandfather, as well as refurbishing cars.

“He was just too smart for his own good,” Hawthorne Sr. said. “You didn’t have no 17-year-old conversations with Junior.”

Kansas City police are investigating Hawthorne Jr.’s death as a homicide. No suspects have been identified as of Wednesday.

Wednesday’s vigil was hosted by KC Mothers in Charge, a peer support network serving Kansas City families impacted by gun violence. Founder Rosilyn Temple urged mourners to bring forward any information they had to support the investigation into Benyamin’s death.

“No one has stepped up,” Temple said. “As a community, if we don’t address it, it’s not going to get addressed.”

At the vigil, Temple spoke about the prevalence of Black-on-Black homicide in Kansas City.

Hawthorne Jr. was Black, as was Temple’s son, who was killed in 2011 at the age of 26.

Missouri has led the nation in Black homicide rates for several years.

“You’re part of a club you didn’t ask to join,” Temple said, addressing Hawthorne Sr.

Hawthorne Jr. was the eighth homicide victim under 18 in Kansas City since the start of 2024, according to data collected by the Star.

Hawthorne Sr. described the culture of violence in Kansas City as “senseless.”

“For no apparent reason, my son is gone,” Hawthorne Sr. said

As the vigil ended with a prayer, mourners lingered by the basketball court to greet each other. But Hawthorne Sr. departed alone down the long path out of the park, his back to the sun.

“We’re a long way away from peace is what it looks like,” Hawthorne Sr. said.