‘I don’t know who is supposed to reach out to a parent whose son gets murdered’

Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Alexis Smith is the mother of Ameen Lacy, who was shot Dec. 6 outside the Tobin Community Center.

By Globe Staff 

When three teenagers were shot outside a Mission Hill community center in December, their family members’ fear was compounded by their confusion, as they rushed to get to the victims’ bedside.

The teens were taken to different hospitals, where doctors scrambled to save their lives. But two of the young men, including 17-year-old Ameen Lacy of Dorchester, died.


“I don’t know exactly what happened,’’ said his still-grieving mother, Alexis Smith. “I don’t know who is supposed to reach out to a parent whose son gets murdered.”

Smith is among Boston’s walking wounded — mostly black and brown mothers, friends, and witnesses left traumatized in sections of the city rattled by episodic gun violence. Their grief is often hard to detect or see. And efforts to assist them do not seem enough.

Their stories will be the focus of a meeting Saturday titled #WeNeedtoKnow at Freedom House in Grove Hall. The meeting’s goal is to compel elected officials to listen to residents from communities affected by gun violence, provide information on help that is available, and demand “effective resources,” said James Hills, a community activist who organized the meeting.

Hills, who is often called upon by families reeling from gun violence, said he organized the meeting after Lacy’s Dec. 6 shooting. Lacy wasn’t just another of the city’s victims. He was Hills’s nephew.

Though Hills has connections in City Hall, he said he struggled to get an official on the phone to answer a simple question: Who from the city was helping Lacy’s family with their trauma? (The city, as a policy, does not address specific cases.)


It’s an issue that Hills has been attempting to resolve over the years, he said, but this experience — so close to home — was a breaking point. “It caused me to say that we need to know what is going on as far as the plan the city has to engage the community, as well as what we need to do as a community when it comes to trauma,’’ Hills said.

Saturday’s meeting marks one year since Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced the establishment of five new neighborhood trauma response and recovery teams, in Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, Mattapan, and East Boston.

The teams, which include clinicians, representatives of health centers, advocates, and public health workers, are meant to sweep in after a violent episode to help families through a crisis. The Justice Resource Institute’s SMART Team provides a 24-hour hot line for residents and staff to assist mourners.

The Boston Public Health Commission, which manages the teams, said its workers responded to 81 trauma incidents last year through the end of August, according to recent data.

The city’s trauma response is tailored to each incident and could include support for a victim, family resident, or community, said Marty Martinez, the city’s new health and human services chief.

Trauma team members, officials said, show up at crime scenes and visit hospitals, offering one-on-one or family support. They offer a shoulder at funerals, vigils, and coping groups.


Since 2013, Martinez said, the commission has trained over 5,000 “front-line providers,’’ and the city said it has invested more than $3.5 million in trauma prevention for the fiscal year 2018. But Martinez acknowledged trauma services could use more funding.

“It’s true in Boston. It’s true in all big urban cities,’’ Martinez said. “No matter what we are spending, we will still need to put in more resources and more opportunities to ensure that . . . we are creating a safety net.”

But some community advocates, including Hills, have said there are major gaps in city trauma services. Families are often confused about whom to call or where to get help, and there is little long-term follow-through. These advocates said they have had to dig into their own wallets to offer assistance or find safe havens for people who have been shot or witnessed a shooting. Sometimes they battle with health care officials for after-care services for shooting victims, they said.

Lacy was leaving a basketball game at the Tobin Community Center when shots rang out. The three victims were taken to Boston Medical Center and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, each of which has its own team of specialists who deal with trauma victims.

On the phone with a detective, Smith, who is 35, was trying to find out if her son was hit, she said. She described the clothes he was wearing: a burgundy jacket and burgundy Nike sneakers. She said the detective told her to go to Brigham & Women’s Hospital. But her son was at Beth Israel. Family members filled the hospital, uncertain what to do with their pain. Some called the city’s 311 hot line — usually used to report problems with street lights and potholes — because they were not aware there is a trauma hot line, according to people familiar with the sequence of events.

Lacy was unresponsive, his injuries too severe, Smith recalled. Eventually, city workers arrived with food and support.

“They did a good job trying to save him,” she said of the doctors. “They were very compassionate. They were very understanding of the love we have for him.”

Martinez and the health commission said they do not comment on individual cases. Police would not comment on Lacy’s shooting because of the ongoing criminal investigation.

One morning recently, Smith pulled out items from a bag that marked her son’s shortened life: trophies for playing basketball, jerseys with his number, a picture of him at a football camp run by former New England Patriot Wes Welker. There were awards from school, including one declaring “You are a star’’ and another honoring him for being a gentleman.

“He was a gentleman,’’ his mother said.

In between tears, she recounted how, at age 12, she was shot in the back after going trick-or- treating in her old neighborhood at the Bromley Heath housing development in Jamaica Plain. Police never found her shooter, and she lived in fear that she would be shot again.

After she had Lacy at age 17, she found happiness. He was full of energy, but she enrolled him in programs, got him counseling, and found ways to keep him calm. He loved basketball and spending time with his mentor in the Big Brothers program.

But her son also was targeted by bullies, and emotionally he was hurting. As he got older, he grew more reserved, she said. “My son was shutting down,’’ she said.

She worried about him. Last summer, she said, someone texted him a picture of their home and threatened to kill Smith.

On Halloween, his close friend, 16-year-old Gerrod Brown, was gunned down on Parker Street.

After a traffic stop one day, a police officer told her that her son “was active” on the streets. Smith said she did not know what “active” meant and that police had not previously contacted her about any issues with her son so she could address them.

In November, Lacy wrote an essay describing his dreams of graduating, going to college, and one day making it to the National Basketball Association.

He wrote about being bullied and described the perils of being a young black man. He said his mother got him back on track.

“I used to get jumped by other kids,’’ he wrote in an essay his mother shared with the Globe. “By the time I got older, that all stop. I couldn’t fight back cause I didn’t know how to fight for myself and stand up to what they was doing.”

On Dec. 8, he was dead.

Meghan E Irons can be reached at