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NaQuese McCollum was 16, just started her junior year at Newark’s West Side High School, and had made her mother a promise: She would soon make plans for her future.
"She said she would know by the end of this year what she would want to do," her mother, 41-year-old Shana Norris, said Sunday in the kitchen of their Irvington apartment. "She wanted to go to college."
But McCollum, who her mother said could fill a room with her presence and was loved by everyone around, never got the chance. She died Saturday afternoon in a shooting in Newark. Her 23-year-old cousin, Damien Matteaux of Newark, was also killed.
It appears Matteaux was the target of the shooting, according to Anthony Ambrose, chief of detectives with the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. Ambrose said the investigation was continuing and no arrests had been made.
Norris said Matteaux was in a gang and had been targeted on two other occasions. Ambrose would not confirm Matteaux’s gang involvement.
Matteaux and McCollum were traveling to Union Township to pick up Matteaux’s girlfriend from work when their vehicle was hit by a spray of bullets near the intersection of South 10th Street and 15th Avenue. Witnesses said it appeared they were chased down by another vehicle before the gunfire erupted.
The killings were Newark’s 63rd and 64th this year and follow a frenzy of violence during which 10 people were killed in a 10-day stretch that ended earlier this month.
McCollum was not in a gang and stayed out of trouble, Norris said Sunday. Her daughter, she said, was in "the wrong place at the wrong time."
newark-homicides-west-ward.jpgInvestigators at the scene of a double homicide at South 10th Street and 15th Avenue in Newark Saturday afternoon.Richard Khavkine/The Star-Ledger
Liza Braswell, the girl’s aunt and godmother, said she was "just a baby."
"Average 16-year-old: liked music, dancing, enjoyed school, had lots of friends. She was very friendly, and she loved the little kids — all of her cousins," said Braswell, 46, later adding, "She hadn’t experienced anything."
McCollum would often babysit Matteaux’s son, taking him to school in the morning. On the weekends, Norris said, Matteaux would spend time with his younger cousin. That’s what was happening on Saturday, Norris said.
She spoke to her daughter on the phone around 3 p.m. and could hear Matteaux, his son and his mother in the background. They said they were having "family day." Matteaux told Norris, "we ain’t going nowhere — we just sitting right here."
"It had to be right after they hung up with me that they go on their way," Norris said, letting out a deep sigh as she sat at her kitchen table Sunday, other family members watching football in the next room.
Matteaux "knew he was a target," Norris said, though she doesn’t think he "meant to jeopardize NaQuese."
He had been attacked twice before, she said.
"The first time they hit him with a car and fractured his collarbone," she said. "The second time they shot up his other car. Twelve bullet holes in the other car. He got away from that."
But it didn’t seem to phase him, Norris said, noting he continued to flaunt his gang allegiance, going outside shirtless, displaying the "ABG" tattoo scrolled across his stomach. That stands for "Anybody Gets It," a gang slogan.
"I said … ‘I should punch you right in the face,’" Norris said. "He was like, ‘Why? Anybody can get it.’ I said, ‘You hear those words — anybody can get it. Me. Your mother. Your son. Anybody can get it. This is what you’re telling me: Anybody can get it. So, because you got this on your stomach, don’t mean your family can’t get it either. Anybody can get it.’ "