REST IN PEACE
I’m So Sorry I Couldn’t Save You
An open letter to a loving man named Laquan Surles, who bled out in my arms on Friday night, and who will be dearly missed by his family.
Your name was Laquan Surles.
I ran to you on Friday night, in my useless heels and gown, around stalled cars at State Street and 3rd Avenue, where you fell, penetrated by a hail of gunfire.
You were on your back, surrounded by shell casings, staring distressed up at the night sky. Your blood, bright and thick like soup, was already unspooling onto the pavement. So many people were staring at you, stunned and discombobulated. They called police; they tried to help.
I knelt down and held your left hand. Your torso was full of bullets. One through your ribs, one in your arm. Maybe more I couldn’t see. I caressed your face. “What’s your name, honey?” I asked. I begged you, please, to hold on. Could you hear me, Laquan?
You looked like you had a bag of groceries in your hand. I remember that someone tried to rest your head on the reusable bag. It was useless.
Soon, you were staring without sight. Your mouth was foaming. I stroked your face. Others found a pulse. You were still breathing. It was going to be ok, I lied. I asked, again, if you remembered your name. I wish I knew then what it was. I held your arm and tried to convince you they were coming. Could you hear me?
You were wearing a white t-shirt. Red boxers. Jeans. A belt. A weapon was on the ground, looking lonely and untouched. Nobody was moving fast enough; it was all in slow motion. They were telling loved ones, through tears, that a stranger was dead. But you were still there, and you could hear them.
Finally, at 8:29 p.m., sirens. Finally, lights.
Police wandered over disoriented; they stood taking in the scene. There were six pops, and then the shooter was gone, we told them. No compressions, no CPR, nothing but shouting into a radio until someone, enraged, demanded they act. Police pushed us further and further back, and I left you. Why did I leave you, Laquan?
The transformative trauma rippled outward, onto the sidewalk and into the nearby event center. So many people saw death for the first time that night. But even I—the Crime Reporter—was useless. And then you were gone.
I’m so sorry.
Police said later, in a press release, that you were 39 years old. Paramedics took you to Brooklyn Hospital, where you were pronounced dead. You were murdered less than a mile from your front door on Nassau Street.
I’m so sorry, Laquan.
I told your wife, Jennifer, about your last moments on Wednesday. She wept while explaining to me that you were her whole life, that you were inseparable. She wrote on Facebook that she misses you dearly—the way you smelled and the softness of your lips.
“That man was the best fucking man I’ve ever met in my entire life,” she told me. “He loved me, and he loved Allah.”
I know now that you were born on October 1, 1978 in Brooklyn. You were a registered Democrat. Your friends called you “Dinky” and “La;” your family wrote in your obituary that you sometimes worked with clients who had special needs. Later in life, you became a Muslim. You were a devoted brother and son and husband, they wrote. You had a big family, full of cousins and stepsons and parents who loved you.
“He was a loving person with a beautiful smile,” according to the program at your funeral on Monday. “To know him was to love him.”
A few days ago, a friend of yours posted a video of you smoking and dancing in the sun, back in 2016. You were wearing a beige flat-cap, thick-frame glasses, and a white polo striped with green.
You looked like you were having fun; you looked happy.
“He’s with his lord now,” your wife wrote.
You were buried in New Jersey on Monday.
By then, the man who allegedly killed you—48-year-old Robert Flippen—was charged with murder and with criminal possession of a loaded weapon, police said.
Judge Alex Calabrese, at the Red Hook Community Justice Center, told me on Tuesday that you had some misdemeanor charges pending against you, including petit larceny, but that you were always optimistic about both your life and the future.
“I remember his smile, and he was always upbeat when he came to court,” Calabrese said. “He could take over the courtroom with his wonderful personality.”
After you were murdered, Laquan, idle conversation continued on the sidewalk and inside the buildings and all over the rest of the city, where people didn’t even know you had been violated. I wanted to scream at them for not knowing you were bleeding.
Or for thinking it was just another shooting in Brooklyn, in New York, in America.
At least 153 New Yorkers died at the end of a gun barrel last year. Most of their stories never got told, but each one of those people—like you—had a name and a life. You, like them, had a really tragic death. In the end, nobody protected you from those bullets, and nobody saved you afterward.
I’m so sorry I couldn’t save you, Laquan.
During the chaos, while I was holding you, someone moved my dress, saying “watch the blood”—and now I wish I had been drenched in it. I wish the dishevelment on my body matched the parts of my brain that were ripping themselves open. I wish I knew what you were thinking, Laquan. I wish I could feel what you were feeling. But all I could do was hold you.
I hope you know you weren’t alone. I hope you know I’m sorry.