When Jahmal Green Jr. steps outside, the top of his 6-foot-5 body nearly hits the door frame.
Tall and lean, he reminds his family of his dad, who walked out one day and never came back. Someone found the body in a cemetery. Green was 3.
His mom and his grandmother raised him. He plays basketball. He raps. In his mother’s eyes, he turned out to be a good kid.
But he got into trouble, too. He wasn’t going to school. North Charleston police labeled him as a gang member unafraid of consequences. Last month, an officer found him walking with a rifle in his pants. He was on probation for beating a man bloody, but he posted bail and got out of jail.
“He’s 17,” his mother, 38-year-old Pamela Heyward, said. “The only thing I can vouch for is what happens inside this door. When he walks out that door, I don’t know what happens.”
He walked out one day last month, and the police said he met with De’Andre Murphy, another 17-year-old who had been arrested several times, too. They and two young women rode around, the police said, until they saw Eric Brantley.
Brantley was 6 when his parents split and his father left. His grandparents stepped in to help raise him. He made the honor roll. He played guitar, collected records, got a job, joined a band.
“He was a typical boy — very energetic,” his mother, Suzanne Sentner, said. “He was a happy child.”
Later in life, he started riding motorcycles and tending bar. On April 20, he left The Sparrow satisfied. He made good money at the bar that night.
Out back by his motorcycle, he saw Green and Murphy, the police said, and their worlds met. Despite similar experiences, they had taken different paths in life that intersected here, in a dark lot in Park Circle.
It’s North Charleston’s hip district, where restaurants serve pistachio pizza, lobster ravioli, duck liver sandwiches. It’s the kind of place where hundreds of people got to know Brantley. But within walking distance are neighborhoods where poverty and violence reign, places that Green and Murphy call home.
The teens picked out Brantley at random, shot him and robbed him, the police said. He was 43.
Murphy has been arrested on murder and robbery charges. Green is still on the loose.
What might have steered the boys away from crime? It’s the prevailing question when youths are tied to violence in the Lowcountry. And it’s asked often: Teens have accounted for 23 percent of primary and secondary suspects in area slayings since 2001, according to The Post and Courier’s homicide database. When the victim is a stranger, teens make up 31 percent of suspected perpetrators.
It’s a question that often brings finger-pointing. Government administrators blame parents and community groups for not stepping in when families fail. Some of those groups blame a shortage of public facilities, like community centers, to distract teens from the street life.
Still others wonder: Are gun laws the solution? Does race or privilege play a role? The teens are black, and Brantley was white.
The city’s mayor, Keith Summey, often hears churches and civil rights advocates complaining about the violence. The police, he said, need their help to fight a pace of homicides — 12 so far — that could make 2016 the deadliest year ever.
“My daddy used to tell me when you’re pointing one finger, there’s three coming back at you,” Summey said. “The people pointing and blaming the government, the city, the Police Department should look at what they’re doing to make the change.”
Perhaps, those affected by Brantley’s death said, the lives of the people involved hold some lessons.
From birth, Brantley had flair.
On Sept. 13, 1972, his mother went into a labor. His father started driving to Medical University Hospital, but the car’s radiator blew. He traded a dollar for a dime from a little boy and called the police from a pay phone. Sentner climbed into an arriving cruiser, but Brantley was born in the back seat, a block from the hospital. The story showed up in this newspaper the next day.
“He was never normal,” Ben Hammock, a childhood friend, said. “He always had ... rock-star status, even coming into this world.”
His parents divorced. He and his father became estranged. He lived mostly with his grandparents and did boy things: played trucks, collected “Star Wars” memorabilia.
He turned to skateboarding and music while he attended Stall High School. He got an acoustic guitar and an electric one. With his neighbor, Rex Jones Jr., they formed a band and called it The Chain Link Fence Experience, a name inspired by Jimi Hendrix and the fence between their homes.
“He was kind of like my older brother,” Jones said.
At 17, he landed a job at Tunes, a Summerville record store. People came in to consult his encyclopedic knowledge.
“He became the official music expert/snob ... even at that age,” said Wes Fredsell, a longtime friend from James Island. “He educated an entire generation about music.”
Brantley set out on his own in his mid-20s, living and working in downtown Charleston.
He played guitar and sang for Telegram, a rock band often billed as one of the loudest Charleston has ever heard. He stuck with the band even after he and its drummer, Joey Apple, were in a car accident in 2000. Apple died. Brantley’s hip was shattered. A green apple tattooed on his arm would serve as a permanent reminder of tragedy.
“It broke him for a lot of years,” Fredsell said. “It was hard for him to get back to music.”
He fell in love with motorcycles — cafe racers, especially. He fixed up Japanese bikes from the 1970s, rode them for a few years, then sold them. He blogged about his projects at his friend’s shop, Vanguard Machine & Tool.
As a barkeep, he rode his bike to work at places like Gene’s Haufbrau, Barsa, Blind Tiger and The Sparrow. His usual outfit: cowboy boots, tight jeans, a leather jacket and a too-small T-shirt that exposed his midriff. He strode in and took his helmet off inside, revealing long, frizzy hair.
He wasn’t talkative with strangers. It wasn’t his style. But he had a brash coolness that attracted others.
“He wasn’t nice at first, but as soon as you showed him you were nice, he would reciprocate it,” said Robbie Mottinger, a co-worker at The Sparrow. “You had to earn it.”
While Brantley’s name appeared in the newspaper at times, Green’s showed up, too. But for a much different reason.
He had the distinction as one of the many area children left without a parent because of violence. His father, Jahmal Green Sr., had been shot three times in the head in 2001. The killing was never solved. The toddler appeared in a photo to go with the newspaper story.
“He still looks the same,” his mother, Heyward, said of the picture. “He’s still my baby.
“We never told him exactly what happened, but he might have learned it from the streets.”
On those streets, Green was arrested for the first time on adult charges when he was 16. In July 2014, he left home with his mother and his sister to confront a 56-year-old man and a woman on Durant Avenue. Their reason was unclear. His mother bit the woman’s shoulder, and his sister slashed her face with a belt, the police said. Green bludgeoned the man’s head with a brick, leaving him bloodied. Later, he told the police that the man had hit his mother with a bottle.
So, “I bricked him,” Green said.
The three family members were arrested and accused of felony assault by mob.
Green was free on bail in February 2015, when another 16-year-old boy stepped onto Florida Avenue to fight him. The boy knew Green by a street name: “Son.”
We were “fighting just to fight,” the boy later told the police.
Green pulled a revolver from his pants, held the gun to the boy’s head and pulled the trigger, the police said. It didn’t go off. He squeezed the trigger again and again, the police said, and he cursed.
“These guns always jam!” he said, according to a report.
Before his death, Green’s father had been convicted of a similar assault. He had jabbed a gun to a man’s head during a robbery and pulled the trigger, though the weapon didn’t fire.
The younger Green was a wanted man for weeks after his fight. During that span, his alleged victim’s mother told the police that Green and other members of the Young Goons gang, a group of teens sometimes tied to area violence, had threatened to shoot up her house.
Officers eventually found Green and a stolen gun in a motel room, a report stated. He was arrested, but he didn’t care; he’d be out in a day, he told the officers.
Green would stay in jail for months, but the case against him fell apart. The young victim left the state and wouldn’t return prosecutors’ phone calls. The case wasn’t viable without a witness, they said, and the charge was dropped.
During that time, Murphy would be arrested for the first time, too.
In October, officers saw him on Ubank Street in the Charleston Heights community. He had crack cocaine in his pocket, they said.
Two days later, he was jailed again on a trespassing charge.
And 10 days after that, shots rang out in Charleston Heights. Nobody was hit, but responding officers spotted Murphy sweaty and out of breath. They reported taking five .38-caliber bullets from his pockets and finding a revolver on the ground.
He and Green wound up at the jail together.
Green got out first by pleading guilty in February to first-degree assault in the 2014 brick attack. A judge gave him three years of probation and said he could live only with his grandmother. He wasn’t allowed to have any unsupervised contact with his mother or his sister.
Still, Green stopped at his mother’s East Montague Avenue apartment for visits, she said.
In March, gunfire resounded a few hundred yards away. When the police showed up, they reported, Green was walking on Railroad Avenue “in a strange manner.” In his pants, the officers said they found cocaine and a stolen AR-15 military-style rifle.
His arrest then wasn’t considered a probation violation, though.
“Being a suspect in another crime is not an automatic violation,” said Peter O’Boyle, a spokesman for the S.C. Probation, Parole and Pardon Services, “under the presumption of innocence clause in the Constitution.”
Green posted $55,000 bail. Murphy would be arrested again on a marijuana charge, but by the end of March, he also was free.
April 19 was the final night of radio station 98 Rock’s “Battle of the Bands” at The Sparrow.
Brantley went there early — around 7 p.m. — to get ready. He knew it would be packed. But Mottinger had already done most of the prep work.
“I guess I’m just wasting my time,” Brantley said jokingly.
But it would be a good night.
People filled every nook. They stood near the “X-Men” arcade game. They danced near the Edgar Allen Poe mural. They nursed beer cans by the “Harry Potter” figurines.
Brantley saw friends like Heather Kneece, a music promoter. He kissed her hand when the evening was through.
“You lovely ladies have a good night,” he told Kneece and her friends, “and I’ll see you Saturday.”
Brantley and another bartender stayed behind and counted cash. The night had been lucrative. As they walked out the glass door around 3:30 a.m., they smiled and high-fived before going separate ways.
Brantley, his motorcycle helmet already on, rounded a corner behind the building. His sparkling gold Honda CB750 was parked near a wooden fence. He put the key in the ignition.
Green, Murphy and the two 20-year-old women, who were riding around and looking for a lone soul to rob, had seen him by then, the police said. The teens got out. Shots rang out. Forty-caliber bullets hit Brantley’s helmet and his right arm. They shattered his teeth.
His body lay next to his bike for hours before anyone found him.
Green and Murphy disappeared into the night.
Surveillance video of the SUV’s license plate led detectives to the women, Victoria Vanessa Deas and London Tiera Shyann Maybank. Facing charges of being accessories to murder, the women pointed the detectives toward the teens.
The next morning, the police showed up at Heyward’s apartment down the street from the bar. Her son wasn’t there.
On a recent day, children left school and gathered at a nearby convenience store. In her living room, Heyward looked down at a picture of Green’s father on a coffee table.
“He was tall,” Heyward said, “just like my son.”
Sirens blasted through an open window, interrupting a “Jerry Springer” episode on her TV. Police cars sped by her place and down the street.
Heyward clutched her chest. She used her palms to dab tears.
“My nerves,” she said, “they go off every time I hear the police.”
She worried about her son and wondered where he was, she said. She couldn’t sleep or work. Her car had been impounded after the police visited her.
“I’m a mother, and if he says he didn’t do it, I believe him,” she said. “People are going to say things, but it doesn’t bother me. I’ve been through this before.”
A police radio beeped outside.
Heyward opened her screen door and peered down a stairwell. A muscly policeman holding a pistol looked up at her.
“Oh, no,” she said.
They looked for her son again, but he still wasn’t there.
Later in the day, they found Murphy holed up in a vacant house on Ottawa Avenue. But Green wasn’t there either.
When families fail in some communities, guns and gangs often fill the void, local officials said.
State Rep. Wendell Gilliard takes pride in pushing legislation to fight the problem. But bills he has touted lately — one to bring metal detectors to movie theaters, another to ban military-style rifles — might do little to stop a killing like Brantley’s, he acknowledged.
Someone, he said, must intervene in troubled youngsters’ lives before they spiral out of control.
“With a breakdown in the family, the problem goes to the street,” he said. “But a community can stop the problem in the street. ... We need people to step up to the plate. Being silent in any community is deadly.”
Local leaders, headed by Charleston County Councilman Henry Darby, have invited gang members to call or text them. They hope to find out what’s broken, so they can fix it.
Will it work?
“Young men are interested,” Darby said, hopeful to announce a breakthrough sometime soon.
In the meantime, no community will be immune to the violence, North Charleston’s mayor said. Police will try to quell it.
“But the parents and the community groups out there have to take some responsibility,” Summey said.
On a recent day, Green’s grandmother, Barbara, sat on her front porch and bowed her head. She shook it when she heard a reporter’s questions.
Across town, 500 people showed up at a memorial service for Brantley. He had benefited from an extended family that guided him through rough patches, said Hammock, the childhood friend. He drew strength from community members, too.
“If these (teens) had other influences in their lives, people to steer them onto the right path,” Hammock said, “things may have turned out differently.”