Retha Moody walked across the asphalt to the beat of a clanging flagpole, past the barbed-wire fence, toward the red brick building, balancing a long white box in her arms.
She led the handful of relatives she had assembled through the metal doors and signed in at a glass booth. After securing their personal belongings in lockers, the group paraded through metal detectors before being led up to the second floor, past several doors that locked behind them.
The family had come to the Department of Youth Services facility in Dorchester to celebrate the 15th birthday of Raeshawn Moody, who had been charged with first-degree murder eight months earlier, when he was just 14.
Retha, the boy’s mother, arranged the chocolate sheet cake she’d brought while Raeshawn greeted everyone with a hug. He helped scoop ice cream into styrofoam cups as the party attempted a festive rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
But in so many ways the celebration was too late.
Though he was born to drug-addicted parents, and spent much of his adolescence living with his mother in a homeless shelter and seeking the approval of gang members, there was a time, though brief, when it seemed that love and full attention might help him overcome his circumstances.
Instead, Raeshawn is now facing the possibility of life in prison. As he awaits his trial, the adults in his life candidly reflected on how their choices and absences affected the boy’s chances, how their brokenness became his. During an interview at Raeshawn’s grandmother’s home, his father wept as he acknowledged, “We dropped the ball.”
. . .
Rodney and Retha Moody were smoking crack cocaine in their Mattapan apartment in 2000 when Rodney realized Retha might be pregnant.
Retha, who was 36, was already a mother of three. She’d tried in the past to quit the habit she’d picked up 16 years earlier, but the drugs helped her escape the dark memories of her childhood — memories so raw she declined to describe them — and she found she couldn’t stop, even though her children were being raised by others because she could not care for them.
She had been drawn to Rodney’s sense of humor and muscular build, and the two married in 1999. But the marriage was marred by domestic violence and drug abuse. By the time Raeshawn was born in 2001, Rodney was in jail for punching and kicking Retha until she was bloody.
Caring for Raeshawn during the first few years of his life fell largely to his paternal grandmother, Ruth. They lived in Randolph, with Retha and Rodney floating in and out of their lives.
“Rodney is in jail at this time,” Ruth Moody wrote in a petition for temporary guardianship in 2002. “Baby mother . . . . I don’t know where she is and she doesn’t support him. Leave him all the time . . . . comes back two days later.”
Ruth hadn’t anticipated having to raise her grandson, but she derived joy from creating a stable home for the sweet boy who called her Ma.
He had a large chestnut bed in a room next to hers. The walls were painted blue, and sunlight poured in through a window facing the street. The house, littered with toys, often smelled of chicken fingers — Raeshawn’s favorite meal — and homemade cakes on the dinner table.
By the time he was 6, Ruth would pick her grandson up from the Margaret L. Donovan School every day. When the weather was warm, they enjoyed slushies from a mini-mart, sat in the park, and talked.
Ruth, who had already raised two children and was now retired, was able to give Raeshawn what his parents couldn’t — her full attention and time. She was a steady presence who helped him cope with his parents being consumed by such issues — and simply not being there.
When kids at school teased him about his mother’s absence from his life, Ruth tried to cheer him up. They watched movies together, traveled to book fairs, and visited his mother at a drug rehab facility in Boston. He helped Ruth rake the yard in the fall and shoveled snow in the winter. They rode the bus to South Shore Plaza or CambridgeSide Galleria, where she bought him suits for church. Sunday mornings were spent with his aunt, Rodney’s sister, Rhonda Jones, at the Holy Tabernacle Church in Randolph.
In the summer he learned to swim and fish with a family friend in New Bedford. Ruth remembers the pudgy boy with a toothy grin standing on the boat, beaming as he held up the fish he caught while she looked on proudly from a nearby bank.
When the boy struggled in school, Ruth enrolled him in counseling and got him help with his reading. A youth worker would stop by her home to play basketball and talk to him. Ruth wanted Raeshawn to have a mentor, someone he could confide in.
She wanted her grandson to excel and to have a peaceful life.
In 2007, shortly after Rodney was released from a stint in jail, he was kicked out of the apartment he had been sharing with Retha. He moved in with Ruth and Raeshawn, then filed for custody of his 6-year-old son, saying he planned to move out on his own and take the boy with him. The court battle went on for two years, and, before it was over, Rodney was back in jail, this time for breaking into a home.
By then, Retha had been sober for two years, had a three-bedroom apartment and a job, and wanted to raise her son. She asked the court for custody.
Though uneasy, Ruth thought it might be time. The judge agreed.
“Are you sure you’re ready for him?” Ruth remembers asking her former daughter-in-law. “This is a big responsibility and this is his life.”
“I’m doing good,” Retha told her.
In August 2009, Raeshawn, then 8, moved in with his mother. But her Boston apartment was in a drug-infested section of Egleston Square and Retha quickly found herself overwhelmed; she succumbed to temptation. When Raeshawn started finding baggies and small crack vials in the house, he told his father and shut himself in his room. Every time he saw his mother talking to a dealer, he got angry, Retha recalled. When she wasn’t doing drugs, she was at work — absent in another way. It was so different from the steady attention he’d gotten from his grandmother.
Retha desperately wanted to stay clean, so they moved to a new neighborhood.
But Raeshawn had already begun to change, she remembers now.
Retha said she tried to talk some sense into him, warning that the streets would bring nothing but trouble. But her words didn’t seem to sink in.
At age 10, Raeshawn went from being a homebody to spending most of his time out of the house. He started talking back to Retha and his teachers, became aggressive, and was acting out in school. He bullied schoolmates and refused to listen to teachers. During the summer, he witnessed the fatal stabbing of a friend.
He attended three different schools, including one for youth with emotional, behavioral, and learning disabilities, but his behavior didn’t improve. He got in trouble for throwing a chair across a classroom.
By the next year, he was hanging out at parties with 20-year-olds, and in parks in Dorchester and Mattapan, where older boys whiled away the time. He started smoking marijuana at home while his mother was at work.
Ruth was worried.
“Don’t let him go to that park,” she warned the boy’s mother. “If you leave him, these big boys will get him. Once they get a hold of him, it’s hard for you to get your child back.”
After he ran away from home and was suspended from school eight times, Retha was at her wit’s end. She took Raeshawn to Boston Medical Center, where she said doctors told her that her son suffered from impulse control disorder — a psychiatric disorder characterized by an inability to resist a temptation or an urge that could harm himself or others. He also suffered from attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity, conduct disorder, and an academic problem, according to court records. Doctors sought to rule out the potential of a learning disorder and post-traumatic stress, the records show.
The diagnoses could have been “the result of a variety of vulnerabilities including prenatal exposure to cigarettes and street drugs” and several traumatic experiences, a doctor noted in a psychological review included in his court files.
Retha sought treatment for him, but he waited weeks for a bed in the psychiatric ward that never came. Raeshawn was arrested for destroying school property and for riding with a friend in a stolen vehicle. After one of the arrests, even though a judge set bail at only $1, Retha left her 13-year-old son in custody for three weeks in a desperate bid to keep him off the streets. A judge later ordered him to undergo a psychological evaluation. He was released after 30 days because, according to Retha, she refused to relinquish custody of Raeshawn to the state. She badly wanted to get him the services he needed, but after having missed out on so much of his childhood, she didn’t want to lose her chance now to raise him.
Retha did consider sending Raeshawn back to Randolph with his grandmother, but decided against it because Ruth was caring for her stepfather, who was ill. Retha thought it would be selfish to ask Ruth to take on that responsibility again.
Ruth had no idea that Retha had even considered the possibility, and she now says she wishes she had known. “He could have come back,” Ruth said. “I had everything here for him.”
But Retha didn’t ask, and the downward spiral continued.
Retha was fired from her job in 2013, and she and her son were evicted soon thereafter. They moved into the St. Ambrose Family Inn, a shelter in Dorchester — a move Retha hoped would be temporary.
“I was trying to get back on my feet after losing my job,” she said.
Around the same time, Raeshawn started spending more time with Du’Shawn Taylor-Gennis, a friend who was three years older. Taylor-Gennis, then 16, was an only child being raised by his mother. His father was incarcerated. Described as a smart, quiet kid, Taylor-Gennis was often targeted by bullies, transferring from one high school in an attempt to escape their torment.
On the streets, Raeshawn was known as Juicey and Taylor-Gennis as Dukie, and together, they sought a place to belong. They met two brothers in their early 20s involved in a local gang, brothers who had faced gun and attempted murder charges. The boys wanted to be part of their crew. Teens who knew the boys said they often tried to prove their toughness.
In one incident, prosecutors say, they opened fire on members of a rival gang. The boys took turns shooting, investigators said, but no one was hit.
Weeks later, prosecutors say, while working together, the boys struck their target.
Shortly before 8 p.m. on June 10, 2015, they paced a street corner in Dorchester, waiting.
Jonathan Dos Santos pedaled his bicycle up Washington Street, saw Raeshawn, and rode toward him. Friends say Dos Santos, 16, was anticipating a conflict and carried a knife with him that day.
Taylor-Gennis had hidden in an alley. As Dos Santos rode up to Raeshawn, Taylor-Gennis emerged and fired five shots, striking Dos Santos once in the back, killing him, prosecutors say.
The ambush and shooting were caught by a store’s surveillance camera. Three days later, eight officers showed up at an apartment where Retha had stayed the night with a friend. They were looking for her son, though they did not tell her why. She called Raeshawn and persuaded him to meet her there.
“You need to come here so that we can straighten this out and figure out what’s going on,” she told him. She drove her son to the police station, where he was charged with murder. Retha screamed and cried and told him everything would be OK.
A mile away, officers came searching for Taylor-Gennis at his mother’s home, but he wasn’t there. Genneane Gennis picked up her son and turned him in, too. She drove him to police headquarters, where an officer read him his rights and arrested him. Before he was taken away, she kissed her son and said a prayer.
Raeshawn is now being held at a Department of Youth Services facility in Dorchester as he awaits trial. Now 18, Taylor-Gennis recently aged out of DYS custody and has been moved to Nashua Street Jail. Both will be tried as adults on charges of first-degree murder, and, if convicted, they could be sentenced to life in prison. Because of his age, if convicted, Raeshawn would be eligible for parole when he is in his 30s.
Raeshawn declined to be interviewed for this story.
After his son’s arrest, Raeshawn’s father, Rodney, reflected on how his actions affected his son’s chances.
“He was exposed to things that are not normal,” said Rodney, who is out of jail now but has been unemployed for the last year. “He was dealing with things he shouldn’t have been dealing with.”
Retha, who has another son who was sentenced to 60 years in prison for his role in the death of a 2-year-old boy, says it was the system that let Raeshawn down.
“I don’t regret anything I’ve been through,” she said matter-of-factly. “I regret that my son has to be in jail right now.”
But Raeshawn’s grandmother is tormented by what could have been. Ruth says she now wishes she’d fought to keep custody of the boy she raised for the first eight years of his life.
“I think about it all of the time, that I should not have let him go back.”
Ruth, 76, considered selling her house to help pay $50,000 for a lawyer for her grandson, but later decided against it.
“Where was I going to go? What was I going to do?” she said.
Taped to a wall in his old bedroom in Ruth’s house is a photo of Raeshawn, his parents, and his sister during a visit at the Department of Youth Services facility last summer. The family posed against a white cinderblock wall. In another photo, Raeshawn and Rodney stand in front of a Christmas tree at the facility. Despite the lights and the strands of festive purple tinsel, Raeshawn isn’t smiling.
Once, when Raeshawn called Ruth from the facility, his grandmother told him: “Even though you’re here, I still have lost you.”Jan Ransom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Jan_Ransom.