Educated, black, and dead

Duncan Ketter.
Duncan Ketter.

A few years ago, a 16-year-old kid from East Boston named Duncan Ketter was standing on the inbound platform of the Orange Line at North Station when he noticed a blur across the tracks.

Through the station columns, he could see that some guy had fallen onto the tracks on the outbound side. The guy struck his head on one of the rails and was out cold.

Ketter didn’t hesitate. He jumped into the pit and gingerly stepped over the electrified third-rail and helped two other guys lift the man.


When some friends told him he was crazy, risking his life for a stranger, Duncan Ketter shrugged.

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“I didn’t care if I died,” he said. “I couldn’t let someone else die and not do anything about it.”

That was the kind of kid Duncan Ketter was. So, on Sunday, when a girl he was friendly with asked him to accompany her while she sold some weed to some sketchy guys she didn’t know well, he shrugged and said OK. Duncan wasn’t selling weed. He just wanted to make sure his friend didn’t get hurt or ripped off.

His friend’s concerns about the people she was doing business with were warranted. After she and Ketter got into an SUV to make the transaction in the Jeffries Point section of Eastie, the SUV started moving and some guy appeared from the back cargo area, pointing a gun. It wasn’t a sale. It was a robbery.

Because Duncan Ketter worked for a living and had some self respect, he protested to the young man holding the gun. The gunman responded by shooting Duncan and killing him.


The SUV pulled over and Duncan’s body was pushed into the street, like so much refuse. His father, wondering why his son wasn’t responding to his phone calls, walked by the crowd that had gathered to watch the cops who responded to the shooting, not realizing it was Duncan under the sheet.

The responding officers from the District 7 station and the homicide detectives put things together pretty quickly. In little time, they arrested the alleged shooter, Thorus O’Brien, 18, from Brockton and going nowhere. They arrested a 16-year-old Malden boy who allegedly set up the transaction.

And they arrested Demetrius Cast, 20 years old and well on his way to becoming one of the gangsters he idolizes. Cast thought he could throw the cops off his trail by hightailing it over to Revere to claim he had been shot in the arm by some bad guys he didn’t know.

Detectives say O’Brien shot his buddy Cast by mistake while he was busy murdering Duncan Ketter. Cast was on the street, free on bail, even though Everett police had arrested him three months ago and charged him with possession of two guns and ammunition, after finding cash and drugs and weapons in the drug den that was his home. This was after Malden Police had locked him up multiple times.

But in this upside-down world, it’s all too often bad kids like Thorus O’Brien and Demetrius Cast get all the breaks and good kids like Duncan Ketter wind up dead.


As part of their investigation, detectives combed through social media. Cast’s Facebook account is littered with photos of him posing like a gangsta, flashing gang signs, smoking blunts. One of his posts is a poster of Al Pacino as the murderous drug kingpin in “Scarface,” with the words: Money. Power. Respect.

Duncan Ketter worked for his money, six days a week, at a rental car company. He believed in the power of education, enrolling in college, hoping to become an engineer. He showed respect for his mother and sister by sending money to them in Kenya, where they live. When he graduated from Madison Park High last spring, he wrote a message on the top of his mortar board: A Young Educated Black Man.

That he was. An immigrant who appreciated the power of education, the path called knowledge, and yet he died at the mercy of the merciless, at the hands of those who are lethally, morally, and willfully ignorant.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at