By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
BRIDGETON — It’s been nearly two months since the brutal murder of 19-year-old Aaliyah Nichole Eubanks in Bridgeton at her apartment on March 16, but for her mother Jennifer Williams-Crosell, it might as well have been last night.
Her voice cracked with emotion this week talking about how her daughter had grown to be a woman and taking charge of her own life. Her tone turned exasperated when she voice concern about how Bridgeton residents appear to accept the tragedy as their “new normal.”
But most of all, Williams-Crosell seemed determined to do the one thing she could do — make sure no one forgets about her daughter and to help bring those responsible for her death to justice.
On May 28, Williams-Crosell and her sister Mary Muhammad are helping to organize the “Our Children’s Lives Matter” walk to protest “senseless” gun violence in the Bridgeton community. She talked about not only about the life of her daughter, but about Jose Castro as well, a young man killed two months ago by gang violence in Bridgeton.
“I want this walk to reflect that the community as a whole is tired of losing our children to senseless gun violence,” Williams-Crosell told Front Runner New Jersey.com. “Bridgeton is a small town but the murders are so out of control. The walk is tentatively planned at 3 p.m. at Bridgeton’s Riverfront behind Hummel’s Liquor Store.”
Brianna Collins, one of Eubanks’ close friends, said she hopes the walk will help jolt a community that appears to have become numb to the violence and death as young people — the city’s future — continues to die on their streets.
“I hope they hear our voices,” Collins said this week. “I hope they will do more than what they are doing right now. This violence has to stop.”
Eubanks, the mother of a 1-year-old son, worked as a certified nursing assistant at Carneys Point Care Center. She had just worked a double-shift at the center the night before her death, as she prepared to move to away from Bridgeton at the end of April.
“She had worked 16 hours when I dropped her off to her home,” Williams-Crosell said. “She was going home to rest so she could go do another 16 hours. She was sacrificing all the time to build a future for her and her son. She was supposed to move to Glassboro out of Bridgeton because it was getting so bad out here.”
Authorities told her three men were captured on video breaking into her apartment and then fled the scene. She was bound in her apartment before her death.
“The last time I actually had a conversation with [police] was April 23,” Williams-Crosell said. “They told me they have a lead on one individual that is a guarantee, but they don’t have the proper evidence right now. They are looking for specific people and they’re saying that they still have to wait on more evidence to come back because you want them to be arrested.
“This is not normal. Aaliyah was not out there in the streets. She wasn’t gang-banging. She was busy taking care of her family. My daughter was shot over six times with a high powerful automatic gun. We have people on our streets and everybody’s okay with this; sleeping with murderers in our community. You owe it to everyone to just make a phone call and say, ‘Yeah, that’s so and so.’ That’s all we want. The kids who are dying are my daughter’s classmates and friends. That’s why we’ve got to stop this,” she said.
The Case Now
Williams-Crosell, family and friends said they are frustrated that no one has been arrested and that the community seems indifferent to Eubanks’ death and others in Bridgeton.
Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae told Front Runner New Jersey last month that while nothing has been released lately, the case is active and ongoing.
But that doesn’t stop the pain, the tears and concerns of Williams-Crosell, who wants more done and wants people to care more about the tragic violence that is taking the lives of young Bridgeton residents too often.
Williams-Crosell said, though, Bridgeton needs to make a statement with the May 28th event that such violence nor staying silent about it, will be acceptable any longer.
“Every time somebody gets shot or something happens, it gets swept under the rug like it’s nothing,” she said. “Nobody’s putting a spotlight on it. Nobody actually cares about the gang violence and shootings. They care more about the police giving them a ticket than the murders around here. They’re okay with it. They think it’s the new normal for everybody around here. They’ve become comfortable with it.”
Black Lives Matter?
Williams-Croswell’s sister Mary Muhammad stepped in at this point to offer a stinging assessment of the limitations of the Black Lives Matter movement and why those involved in that cause should be out in the streets just as strongly for Eubanks’ death.
“Black Lives can’t only matter when cops kill us,” Muhammad said. “Yes, it was terrible about what happened to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. But what about our children who are being killed in the streets? Somebody has to care.”
Pointing out Eubanks’ mixed-race heritage (her mother is white), Muhammad wondered out loud if publicity over her death would be different.
“I bet you if Aaliyah was the same color as her mother, and her son was blond haired with blue eyes, [the media] would have been all over this,” Muhammad said, sharing Williams-Crosell’s outrage. “But because she’s a young Black girl, they don’t care. She lived in a gated community. You have to put in a password to get in. And there’s cameras. But there’s no news coverage on that?”
Muhammad said she has received comments from several news outlets to cover the May 28th rally along with at least one Cumberland County commissioner.
“We’re trying to make this like, yes, Black lives do matter. They don’t just matter when the police are involved. Now [Eubanks’] son will never have memories of her mother. It’s been more than a month and not one arrest has been made. This is unacceptable. There’s video out there. This makes no sense.”
How She Lived
Family and friends said Eubanks made friends quickly, had a knack of putting people at ease and you heard her coming before she would enter a room.
“If you didn’t know Aaliyah and you walked into a room, you would know Aaliyah pretty quick,” Muhammad said. “Yes, she had a very big personality. She loved to play around. She loved to hang with her girlfriends. She loves taking care of her son.”
Friend Shaniya Thompson said Eubanks was the type of person you couldn’t help but be attracted to.
“She was a very loving person,” Thompson said. “She was just a bright person and wanted to help a lot of people. She made everybody laugh and everybody in the community liked her. It’s hard to understand why this would happen. She meant a lot to a lot of people.”
Eubanks’ best friend, Tabria Russell, still struggled to put into words her loss.
“She was my best friend,” Russell said, before ending her portion of the interview before breaking down. “Losing her is still unexplainable.”
She loved her job as a CNA because it was another way to care for people and do it for a living.
“She spent more time with her clients than their families did and gave them the best care,” Williams-Croswell said. “She had been recognized several times for her job as a CNA. She had so many girlfriends. At her funeral, it was so crowded that people were sitting outside of this ALMS Center because they all wanted to pay their respects. Clearly, Aaliyah was well known and very much so much loved by everyone.”
Collins said everyone remembered Eubanks’ out-sized personality, making her someone everyone wanted to be around.
“[Eubanks] was just this wonderful person and when I heard what happened, I couldn’t believe it. She was a single female taking care of her 1-year-old son. She didn’t deserve this. We all want the same thing. We want justice for Aaliyah.”
A Mother’s Anguish — And Determination
There is no motive in the case. Those closest to Eubanks don’t get it. Why Aaliyah? Why such a brutal killing? How could have someone who had worked so hard to move forward in life deserve such a tragic ending?
“If it wasn’t for the support of my friends and family and Aaliyah’s team, I would be in my bed,” Williams-Crosell said. “This has destroyed me to a point of no return. I’m trying to manage my anger and energy into something positive. This has completely turned my heart cold. I mean, I don’t bother nobody. I’m not in the community that much. I’m simple. I work and I come home. For this to come and hit me at my front door, it’s hard.”
Through the pain and solace, Williams-Crosell has developed a cause — to fight for justice and make sure no one forgets her name. Surrounded this week by those who knew Eubanks the most, the May 28th march is just a start of that long road to a healing that won’t replace her daughter’s presence, but let everyone know she’s ready to fight to do whatever she can do.
“I want justice for my daughter,” she said. “She didn’t deserve this. They took everything from her — her future, her son, everything. They took my only daughter for no reason. Yes, she was a 19-year-old. She got herself into some trouble like all 19-years-olds do, but she was turning into a woman when she was supposed to turn into a woman.
“She was finding her way and making a life for herself. She will never know what it will be like to have her own car, or know what a real Mother’s Day feels like.”
With the May 28 march, Williams-Crosell said she hopes it’s the start of people taking notice about what is happening.
“I hope it opens up the public’s eyes, our community leaders, our politicians, our government, that we’re not okay with this,” she said. “The majority of us aren’t and we’re not going to be quiet about it. We want something done. Something has to change. Yes, they’re adding a football team and a baseball team, but that’s not enough.
“We’ve got to go deeper and harder. We have our teenagers out there, and it’s life or death. We need to do something to stop it,” Williams-Crosell said.
Along with her mother and son Ky’ron Martin, Eubanks is survived by her father Aaran Eubanks Sr., brothers Angel Cruz and Aaran Eubanks Jr., and sisters Jaida and Ariana Crosell.
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