On his 13th birthday, he felt like a king. So Nizzear Rodriguez feasted like one.
In a late-night Saturday dinner at Applebee’s with his grandmother, he ordered a quesadilla, shrimp, steak and two baked potatoes. A man-sized meal for a boy less than 5 feet tall, still wearing children’s sizes.
“He ate until he could hardly move,” said grandmother Alice Stout-Osorio. “We had fun.”
It would be his last meal. Within three hours, Nizzear was dead. Police say sometime around 2 a.m. as he and other family members slept, two young intruders broke into the townhome, went up a tall staircase, turned the corner and went into his room and shot him in the head.
It happened fast and somehow, it was quiet. Stout-Osorio said neither she nor her husband heard a thing. Neither did her 17-year-old son, whose bedroom is next to Nizzear’s.
“I’m like an empty shell.”
Nizzear had spent his birthday with his family, traveling to Cobb County to watch his uncle play football for the Carrollton High School team. That afternoon, he played outside with other kids on the street. Later in the week, he and his dad planned to go to an arcade. But Saturday night was just for him and his grandmother, who he had lived with since he was 5.
Early Sunday morning, Stout-Osorio stood at the end of Nizzear’s bed before she left for work.
“You left the TV on again,” she said to the boy.
Nizzear didn’t answer. She left for her office job at OFS, a company that manufactures optical fiber cables.
A phone call later Sunday morning startled Stout-Osorio. She had told her family not to interrupt her at work unless it was important. When she answered, her teenage son, Angelo, told her something was wrong with the boy he considered a brother.
Stout-Osorio rushed home, but it was too late. Her grandson was dead. And she soon learned it had happened right in her own home, and allegedly by two young men she knew.
“If your child isn’t safe in his bed, he isn’t safe anywhere,” Stout-Osorio said.
A native of the Virgin Islands, Stout-Osorio said she was raised to open her home to friends and family, and that’s what she had always done. If it was dinner time and others were in her home, she set an extra plate.
Two suspects, Malik Davis, 17, and Kenneth Wheat, 21, were arrested within hours of the boy’s death. A woman, Jackquline Leann Freeman, 24, was also charged with murder, and police have said she was the “getaway driver.” Two other people Oleida Ward, 34, and Britannica Turner, 21, were arrested and charged with making false statements. All are from Carrollton.
Stout-Osorio said she doesn’t know the women, but the two men are familiar faces. At the police station, Wheat told her he was sorry. “Ken” told her it was Malik who shot Nizzear. Stout-Osorio said she has forgiven those who killed her grandson because that is what God would want her to do. She said she’ll never forget the pain.
Police have said Nizzear was an innocent victim, and perhaps it was a case of mistaken identity. Could the suspects have believed they were in another family’s apartment? But nearly a week after the killing, no one has provided the family with the answers.
Smart and polite beyond his years, Nizzear’s nickname was “Jimmy Neutron,” after a cartoon about a boy genius.
“He was so smart, he could do my homework,” his uncle, a high school junior, said.
Nizzear loved playing video games and basketball, and his favorite colors were red and royal blue, the color of the walls in his room. He made friends fast, and not just with kids his age.
“The respect he showed his elders was different than other kids,” a neighbor, Andrew Ealy, said.
Neighbors have the same questions as the family about how an innocent child’s life could be taken as he slept.
“Why? What was the motive? Why? Why?” Stout-Osorio said. “I don’t understand. Ain’t no word to explain it. I’m like an empty shell.”
“This baby’s life ain’t gonna go in vain”
News of Nizzear’s death traveled fast through the community.
Neighbors and friends started bringing food late Sunday, and continued throughout the week. Tuesday afternoon, two large tents in front of the family’s apartment offered shade to those stopping by, along with two tables and chairs for visitors. Television news trucks parked on the otherwise quiet street.
There is overwhelming sadness and anger, but there is also hope for change. It’s been almost like a family reunion at the family’s home all week, complete with long hugs, kids playing and dancing outside and plates of food being passed out.
Annette Boykin, a grandmother of seven and a former neighbor, said Nizzear was like one of her own. Boykin said she doesn’t have money to offer the family, but she has time and love, and she’s donated both throughout the week. Boykin greeted those stopping by the home Thursday afternoon, and said she’s helped in the kitchen, keeping donated food organized and counters clean.
“This baby’s life ain’t gonna go in vain,” Boykin said. “This is not going to tear us apart.”
In the days after his death, neighbors gathered outside, including some who had previously never met each other. Wednesday night, more than 100 people marched up the neighborhood’s main street, singing worship songs and holding hands.
“We’ve never had people stand up and say, ‘We have to change,’” Jenny Samples, a lifelong Carrollton resident said. “Our community is coming together and trying to make something positive out of it.”
Stout-Osorio said Nizzear wanted a birthday party to celebrate turning 13.
“He’s sure having a bash,” she said smiling while sitting outside Thursday afternoon. “His spirit is still here.”
When she walks down the hall to her teenage son’s room to wake him up for school, Stout-Osorio said it’s hard to resist opening Nizzear’s door. There are too many reminders in the boy’s room, like video games and his favorite shoes. Thursday afternoon, Stout-Osorio cried when she walked in the room, but couldn’t make herself walk out.
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AJC Video on myajc.com: Hear Nizzear Rodriguez’s grandmother recount the morning he was killed and see her and Nizzear’s mother’s emotional visit to the bedroom where he was shot.