GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The two men accused in the October killing of a man in a Grand Rapids party store parking lot were members of the 7 Gang, and police called it a gang-related shooting, according to court records.
But court records don’t identify the victim, a father of five, as a member of a gang.
Instead, Romito Jones, 35, was in a car parked in a neighborhood known “to be associated with (the) Bemis Gang,” court records show.
The 7 Gang and the Bemis Gang are rivals, according to records.
The victim’s cousin said Jones had gone to Miss Tracy’s Liquor Store that night to pick up butter. He was in the back seat.
“He was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” his cousin, Datasha Chapman, said. “Some 17-year-old boy wanted to be in a gang, and he had to go to Miss Tracy’s and shoot somebody, and my cousin just so happened to be there.”
The victim had helped his neighbor, Hillary Scholten, with her run for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Jones passed out campaign signs and even appeared in one of Scholten’s campaign ads, which was recorded three days before he died. He’s wearing a mask, sitting on a ledge in Scholten’s front yard. He never got to see it.
“He was a dear friend, someone who was always there for his family, for his neighbors, for his community,” Scholten said.
“From what I’ve heard, he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that is just infuriating,” she said.
“He loved his kids, everything in his life was about his kids,” Jones’ cousin said.
The shooting happened on Oct. 6 while Jones was in a car with three others outside Miss Tracy’s, located at 1043 Franklin St. SE.
“He wasn’t in a gang, he wasn’t being robbed, he did not get into it with anybody,” his cousin said.
The suspects, Jamarie Bell, who just turned 18, and Shaquan Washington, 26, were charged with open murder and gang engagement.
Police searched the apartment of a fellow 7s gang member and said they found the assault rifle fired by Bell to kill Jones, court records show.
They said they also found written rules and regulations of the 7 Gang, as well as a written “gang structure.”
Police identified Washington as the getaway driver who also fired a handgun at the car.
It was Jones’ cousin who drove him to the hospital after his friends had driven him to her house.
“To just shoot him because you’re trying to get into a gang, that angers me, that’s open murder, that’s a total disregard for life,” she said. “It pisses me off.”
As she spoke to News 8 on Wednesday, she wore a “Black Lives Matter” COVID-19 mask.
“Black lives need to matter to black people,” she said. “Like, how can you expect other people to respect your life, expect them to love you, when you don’t love yourself?”
Days after his death, family and friends released balloons for Jones. A bright white balloon is still stuck in a tree in front of his cousin’s home, two-and-a-half months later.
“He’s giving us a sign,” his cousin said. “He’s giving us a sign that he’s still here with us. He’s never going to leave us.”