Fred Muhammad thought he made the right choice by uprooting himself and his three sons from Philadelphia for a life in Boston, where he hoped they would have a more peaceful future.
“Dorchester is rough, but it’s not like North Philly,” Muhammad said. “I felt like they were a little safer here.”
He did what he could as a single father to keep them out of trouble. He sent the oldest off to study engineering, and the second to study architecture. And when his youngest, Aquil H. Muhammad, graduated from Dorchester’s TechBoston Academy in 2018, the father praised him on Facebook.
“When u look back over the yrs and realize all the hard work was definitely worth it,’’ he wrote.
Now the pride has turned to pain as Aquil’s family, peers, and mentors are reeling over his death. The 18-year-old was shot on Aug. 6 and died two days later, becoming the city’s youngest homicide victim in 2019 to date.
“I never expected this for my child,” said Muhammad, his eyes welling up with tears, during an interview at the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute in Dorchester, where he sought grief support.
The shooting occurred around 1:30 a.m. near 46 Wildwood St. in Mattapan, about an 11-minute walk from where Aquil’s family lived. The tan triple-decker’s clapboard shows at least three bullet holes — from a shooting prior to Aquil’s, a neighbor said.
The circumstances around his murder remain unclear. Boston police and Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins’s office declined to disclose further information on the active investigation.
Rollins linked Aquil to other victims of gun violence in Boston.
“Kendrick Price. Eleanor Maloney. Luckinson Oruma. Aquil Muhammad. Each murder is a tragedy, bringing unthinkable pain and hurt to the loved ones and communities left to pick up the pieces,” Rollins said in a statement. “And when a young person is taken before they have the chance to make their way in our world, the pain experienced can feel even more extreme.”
According to court records, Aquil and a juvenile allegedly tried to rob a 55-year-old man at knifepoint in the MBTA’s Andrew Station on Feb. 27. His father claimed it was an act of self-defense. The charge of assault with a dangerous weapon was pending in South Boston Municipal Court at the time of his death, court records show.
But that allegation appeared out of character for Aquil, who arrived in Boston at the cusp of adolescence, and over the next six years built an admiring crowd of supporters nearly everywhere he went. Aquil was known as “KD” because of his likeness to Kevin Durant, the NBA star. He had a brilliant smile and a tendency to laugh.
His supporters include Ruthie Lydon, his guidance counselor at TechBoston Academy for three years. She recalled Aquil’s compassion after she lost twin boys late in pregnancy. “At 15 years old, he would ask me, ‘Are you OK? I know you’re sad. I’m sorry,’” Lydon said. “Very rarely does a teenager ask how you’re doing.”
Aquil’s desire to help others drew the attention of adults whose lives intersected with his.
Andrea Baez, former executive director of the Dorchester YMCA, described Aquil’s death as inexplicable and a great loss.
“When you think about the hundreds and hundreds of young people we served at the Dorchester Y, he never would have come to mind as someone who would lose his life to gun violence,” said Baez. “He was extraordinary, but he was a regular good kid.”
Alex Bezek, the branch’s teen director, said his first memory of Aquil was of him playing basketball.
“Over the last couple of years, if somebody newer would come to the Y, especially the younger ones, he would look out for them. He would play one-on-one with them and shoot hoops,” he said.
Bezek said that he and Aquil had “long conversations about things we could change in the community — things that he felt subject to: violence in the community, police brutality, lack of opportunities for boys and girls of color.”
Khailiah Williams, Aquil’s girlfriend of two years, described him as everyone’s “hype man.”
“I would put myself down, but he would be the one to boost me up,” Williams said.
Williams said Aquil struggled to figure out his next steps, but had dreams for the future. He declined an offer to attend Bunker Hill Community College, and wavered on whether to enroll in the Year Up training and internship program, which had accepted him, she said.
“At first, we talked about opening a school together for all black kids. He also wanted to open up another business for customizing shoes. He wanted to open up a lot of businesses,” she said.
The day his son was cremated, Fred Muhammad returned to work. The next day, he delivered a royal blue urn to the funeral home where Aquil’s memorial would be held.
Blue was Aquil’s favorite color.
Sarah Wu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @sarah_wu_. Anyone with information about the killing of Aquil Muhammad is asked to call Boston police homicide detectives at 617-343-4470. Anyone wishing to leave an anonymous tip can call CrimeStoppers at 1-800-494-TIPS or text the word ‘TIP’ to 27463.