Germantown resident Kimberly Kamara recounts the tragedy of losing her son Niam, and the painful journey to continue living on.
A lot of times after a funeral, many think life goes on for the surviving members of the family. But my life and my family’s life changed permanently on July 4th and 5th, 2017. My son Niam K. Johnson-Tate was murdered as he was leaving his girlfriend’s house after he’d visited his three-month-old son.
I recall talking to Niam on July 4th at about 9:30PM. He and his family were going to watch fireworks in the country after he and his baby got up from their naps. We always ended our conversations the same before we hung up. He’d say, “Mom, I love you” and I’d say “I love you more.” I never knew that would be the last time I would hear his voice.
The next phone call I got was from his girlfriend’s mother screaming to “get to Roxborough Hospital NOW!” My husband and I were already in the car, returning from enjoying the holiday with friends from out of town. We sped to the hospital as fast as we could. I called my daughter, who lived closer than we did, so she could get there first. We didn’t think it was that bad because he was at Roxborough Hospital. When my daughter got there and identified herself, they told her to get me on the phone because they had to transfer him to a hospital that dealt with trauma – Roxborough wasn’t equipped to handle it.
My daughter called me and explained everything to me. At that point she tried her best to remain calm for my sake, but she broke down crying. “Mom what if he’s not alright?” she asked. I told her to have faith and to be strong, I was on my way. They first told her they would transfer Niam to Hahnemann Hospital but my daughter called me back minutes later and said “Mom they are taking him to Temple Hospital.” My heart dropped to my feet and I lost it. I screamed at the top of my lungs because I knew it was serious and that our lives would change forever.
As we drove to Temple I felt hot, then a sharp pain in my chest, and I became cold and hot at the same time. I put my head down and began to pray because I knew that my son was no longer with us, but I didn’t want to accept it.
As we pulled up to the Emergency Room I jumped out of the car and ran in. The security guards tried to calm me down because I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth. One of the guards finally sat me down and asked me to take deep breaths and talk slowly. I finally got my son’s name out and said he was shot. They told me there weren’t any gunshot patients there. I said alright and went back outside. I began to think maybe I didn’t get this call, maybe I was losing my mind. I laughed at myself.
As I began to walk towards the car, I heard an ambulance siren getting closer and I knew that was my Sonnyboy arriving. As the ambulance pulled into the parking space, I ran to the ambulance screaming Niam! Niam! Niam! – then the doors flew open. I saw my Sonnyboy laying on the gurney lifeless while a doctor continued to work on him. The guards came running trying to hold me back, but they couldn’t because I was all over the place. All I saw was my baby boy hurting and I couldn’t help him, I couldn’t touch him. I finally collapsed to the ground and my husband scooped me up as he tried to calm me.
My daughter ran up to me crying. We hugged one another crying until we couldn’t cry anymore. We went into the hospital as everyone watched and whispered about us, but that didn’t matter because our Sonnyboy was hurt and there was nothing we could do.
We sat down in the waiting room and a doctor came and introduced himself to us. He told us what was going on and they were doing everything they could to save Niam, but it didn’t look good.
He told my husband and me to come into another waiting room in the back while they continued to work on him. I said to the doctor “I know my son is no longer with us.” When I called his name, my son would have answered me, and he didn’t. The doctor said they would continue to work on him and come and get us when they were done. I said alright and smiled at him.
My husband and I sat in the room and just looked at each other in silence. Once an hour passed –which seemed like forever – we began to talk about Sonnyboy and laugh. We remembered when he told us he was going to be a dad. How he said “I’m a baby myself, I can’t be nobody’s dad.” As we began to laugh, the door flew open and the doctor told us we could see him. He said they were waiting for the results of one more test, which would come in the morning. It would tell us if Niam had any brain activity.
They allowed us to go see him before they transferred him to the ICU unit. When we went in the to see him, I cried until I had no more tears. I talked to him, held his hand and kissed my Babyboy. They allowed his sister in and she too broke down. We called my other daughter who was away on vacation to tell her. Once she got herself together, she Facetimed and talked to him as well.
This was just the beginning of a terrible time. Of life as a family without our son, brother, daddy, grandson, cousin, nephew, uncle, and friend. When my son was murdered, it left a hole in our hearts which can never be filled.
Fast forwarding to today, we do our best to live. Niam’s three-month-old son is now two years old. At first it was hard for me to hold the baby because he reminded me so much of his daddy. I recall one day I had the baby by myself and he began to cry and so did I. I screamed “Why my son, why? Why do I have to go through this? What have I done to deserve this, why?” Then the room went silent and a calm came over the both of us. I picked up the baby and he had the biggest smile on his face looking at me. I began to talk to the baby and tell him stories about his daddy. From that moment on, he and I had a special bond. My son made me promise him that I would care for the baby if he wasn’t able to.
July 5, 2017 was the day that changed everything about us. I no longer have a son. I was a mother of three, now a mother of two. My world is no longer safe as I knew it because a killer is still in the streets that can kill another, and another family will be traumatized. I can’t live knowing this, so today I place my energy into seeking justice for my son’s murder. I participate in marches across the city. I talk about my son’s murder to anyone that will listen. I stay in touch with the detective assigned to my son’s case and give him any information I can. I know that one day we will have justice while the killer believes he has gotten away with murder.
The hardest part of my day is the morning. If I can just get my head off the pillow to begin my day I have a good chance of pushing through it. At night its hard for me to fall asleep because I keep thinking about what my Sonnyboy’s doing – did he eat, does he have enough to eat, is he safe, does he have clothes, did he put a belt on, did he park his car? These are all the things I worried about when he was living and now that he isn’t here, I can’t remind him to do these things.
When his murder first took place, I solely concentrated on Niam and I thought my daughters were alright. I didn’t know they were hurting so much, maybe more than me. My children were very close and told each other everything. My daughters needed me, and I was too blind to see that. So they continued to try their hardest to be strong but were falling apart on the inside.
When I picked up on this, I got us into counseling because all of us were hurting in more ways than we could imagine. My young ladies missed their brother and felt responsible because they weren’t there to protect him. They were mad, hurt, and confused. Their concentration (and mine too) suffered at work and school. We developed trust issues and looked at everyone like they were out to hurt us. Basically, we became paranoid and our anxiety level was through the roof.
Some relationships dissolved, but others flourished. I finally told them it was alright to cry so we could begin to heal as a family. Once I said that they began to talk about their personal feelings, how they missed him, and the things they missed about him.
My husband was always the silent type who said very little but watched over us. He loved to see us happy and laughing and wanted his family to return to those happier days, but we were all too hurt for that. There are times when he goes to his quiet place and just prays. He thinks a lot about that fateful night. He’s still a man of few words, but at times you can see the pain all over his face.
One thing I’ve learned during this journey is that communication is key. We have to communicate even when we don’t feel like it. We have to pay attention and speak our true feelings to one another. We have to pay more attention to our surroundings and who we let in, because we are fragile. There are times I want to scream because the pain hurts so badly, I paint a smile on my face to fake my feelings because I don’t want others to feel bad for me.
I’ve got so many scars inside. Today I’m learning how to work through my emotions each day. Of course, I cry as I listen to one of Niam’s favorite songs, a song he would sing to me, “Dear Momma,” by the late Tupac Shakur. One minute I can be happy and the next minute I am lost in my feelings. I’ll get angry, lashing out at others, crying, and not wanting to be bothered by anyone. There are times when I just want a hug but can’t express that to another person so I make it worse for myself. This can happen at any time, any day. A lot of times I miss events because I’m in a funky mood and don’t feel like being around others, but other times I push myself to go. Another thing I’ve noticed is that trauma does something to your memory. I am so forgetful it’s not even funny. I keep a pad and pen in my pocketbook to write things down so I can remember.
Memory can be overwhelming too. I can be having a conversation with someone and if they say something that Niam used to say, I’ll excuse myself and go to the bathroom and cry. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called his phone expecting him to pick it up, or stared at his pictures and looked at videos of him.
I go on his Facebook and Instagram pages praying he appears. I look out my window expecting him to be walking up the walkway and no Niam. Then reality sets in and I get angry thinking how cruel and evil one must be to take another’s life. I also feel like there’s now an Angel, Niam’s spirit, guiding us through life and looking over us, even though we never wanted that.
Seems like every day we hear about the senseless shootings that have plagued our communities. I cry for the families because this is a club no one wants to be in. When I “joined” I didn’t know what to expect. No one told me I’d have to go to the City Morgue to identify my son. No one told me that some detectives don’t care about your child and won’t do their job. No one told me that you must go to the City Commissioner’s Office to set up the $20,000 dollar reward for the murderer. No one told me you have to become a detective and assist in the case.
A lot of times our days run into nights of us just thinking about what happened on July 4th. When it’s cold outside I wonder if my son is warm, when it’s hot outside I wonder if he’s cool. I wonder if his allergies are bothering him and if he has medication to help them. Does he have on the right cloths and enough money in his pocket? I will always continue to be my son’s keeper even though he’s gone. As Niam’s mother I have an obligation to continue to fight for him as I am doing now.
What puts a smile on my face is remembering how selfless Niam was and the good it’s led to. When he got his driver’s license, he told me he’d decided to become an organ donor. I was floored because I always felt being an organ donor placed a flag on your back. But that’s what he wanted. He said “I want to help others live if I die.” I asked him to take if off of the license but promised him I would make sure it’d happen if he passed. Then I said “let’s not talk about this anymore because you’ll outlive me.” When he died, his selflessness blessed seven families with new life.
Another thing that has helped me deal with Niam’s loss is writing. On July 5, 2019 I published a book called, “Where’s My Daddy?” In the book, a little boy named Kaira searches all over town for his dad, asking everyone including his teddy bear, his dog, and the postman. He keeps at it until he gets to his mother, who sits him on her lap and tells him, “Son, your daddy is in your heart.”
I wrote “Where’s My Daddy?” for my grandson and other fatherless children so they can have a healthy dialogue with their mothers and families about their daddies. I also created a coloring book, which is an interactive way to help children express their feelings in a healthy manner as they search for their daddies.
Thank you for listening to my story. Even though Niam is no longer with us, he still lives in our hearts and in seven other families’ hearts. No one will ever know how that makes us feel. To us, he’s a hero.
You can find the book on Amazon or at my website.