Miami — His mother was unable to talk about his death. His great aunt was able to utter a couple of inaudible words before breaking down, too overcome with emotion to continue. His grandmother blames herself because she couldn’t save his life. Ten-year old Marlon Eason was murdered by an unknown assailant as he played with a basketball in front of his home and his family is grappling to understand why.
Richard Ruffin said his nephew was a good kid, “just a good kid.” Affectionately nicknamed “Merv” like his father, the little boy was his mother’s only child, and the only child in the family who resided in the two-story Overtown townhouse with his mother, his Uncle Richard and grandmother, Dorothy Ruffin. His uncle said that Merv’s death has left a huge void in the home, and in their lives.
The family agreed to an interview with the South Florida Times, which took place in the living room of their Overtown home. Just outside, yards away from the spot where Merv lay dying, is a small memorial of stuffed animals. During the interview, Merv’s mother, Elizabeth Ruffin, rested upstairs, too traumatized to speak about her son’s murder, although “resting” may be an inaccurate way to describe how she’s passing the days. Her brother said that he’s watching her deteriorate.
A superheroes fanatic, Merv was shooting a basketball into a hoop on the evening of March 24 when the ball got away from him and rolled into the street. A bullet that his uncle said was fired from yards away, slammed into his head. He was pronounced dead at Ryder Trauma Center, but his uncle believes he died where he was shot.
Richard, who was upstairs when Merv was shot, is adamant that the child was killed intentionally, not the victim of a random bullet. There were several people outside with him as he played. The boy’s mother had departed a few minutes before the shooting, promising to take Merv to Target, his favorite store, when she returned.
“My sister wasn’t gone a good five minutes before she got the phone call telling her that her son had been shot.”
Any portrayals of Merv as something other than an innocent child are inaccurate, Richard said.
“Marlon was a kid, kid. He wasn’t wise for his age. Just a simple 10-year old kid. He didn’t talk very much, he just smiled all of the time. He loved basketball,” said his uncle. “He was struggling in reading, but was very good at math.”
Ruffin, a second grade teacher at Jesse McCrary elementary school said that his nephew was very naïve. “He still believed in magic.” Theirs was a close relationship. “Marlin was like a little brother. Everywhere I went, you saw him trailing behind me.”
Talking about her grandson is a struggle for Dorothy Ruffin. “Oh God, this is so hard,” she said, clearly pained but determined to let people know who her grandson was. “He was a real smart little boy. He liked football, but basketball was his thing. I made sure that he went to school every day. He liked Spiderman and comic books. He was so sweet, and I had him in church. He was in church every Sunday. Everybody just loved him. He always had that big smile.” Her voice trails off. “I’m just so sad that my baby is gone,” she said, just above a whisper.
Her effort to recall fun memories seems overshadowed by the image of him sprawled on the ground with a hole in his head. “We went on a trip last year to Universal Studios,” she added. “He’s going to really be missed.”
Dorothy Ruffin’s sister, Tammy Walker, recalled that Merv loved for her to cook spaghetti for him. “When it was good, he sat right there and ate it and asked for seconds,” she said.
Richard chimed-in about how Merv loved to eat. “His favorite dish was chicken wings. He could eat some chicken wings, spicy buffalo. You couldn’t give him a happy meal, he wanted an adult meal,” he said. Walker said that a kid’s menu was out of the question when the family went out to dinner.
Merv’s father, Marlon Eason Sr., also called “Merv,” arrived during the interview. He said that he’s “not too good, just sad.” His namesake’s murder, he added, “Just broke me down. My son, it’s hard to believe. I’m tore up. He was real quiet. He didn’t talk to too many people. He was just starting to open up. He ain’t bother nobody.”
The family seems determined to illustrate that theirs is a normal American family that experienced a horrible American tragedy. They want people to know that Merv was loved and supported; that he was a part of a good family that did normal things together.
They also want people to know the devastating details from the night Merv was killed.
“My 10-year old nephew was gunned down, a shot to the head, on his porch while he was playing basketball in front of my mother, my sister, my 4-month old nephew, my 5-year old cousin and my aunt, as well as a neighbor,” his uncle explained. “These were people on their porch having discussions that they have every day, and someone chooses to stand yards away and target a 10-year old.”
He doesn’t buy media reports that Merv was not the intended target. “They targeted a child,” he said. “And he died in a very horrible way.”
He said that the police “are doing their job, but we need the community as a whole to advocate for bringing this person in.”
It pains him that people question what the family was doing, implying that they are somehow responsible for Merv’s death. He said that a recent discussion on a local radio station included people questioning why the child was outside at that time.
Clearly agitated at the implication, he points out that even though it was early evening and spring recess, “Every child has the right to be alone, with their family inside of the house, outside playing in front of their house without the fear of being gunned down. Without the fear of being killed.”
The blame, he said, “needs to be on the suspects who chose to target my nephew and take his life.”
He lowers his eyes, which are full of tears, as he describes what he saw after hearing the shots and running downstairs.
“I had to see my nephew struggling to breathe. He basically was choking off of his blood, trying to breathe, trying to live.”
His voice conveys a pained helplessness as he shares what his sister experienced. “My sister had to come and see her son lying down in a puddle of blood. And once he heard her voice, he tried to fight even more.”
His said that the smiling image of Merv that is seen on the news masks the horror that his family experienced.
“We had to witness a hole in my nephew’s head.” The aftermath is a daily struggle. “I’m basically sitting here watching my sister deteriorate. I’m watching my mom deteriorate.” Some members of the family are already in therapy. Merv’s mother has yet to begin.
Ruffin said that she cries about her grandson daily. “I will remember this the rest of my life. When the bullet hit my baby, I told my baby to run, ‘run, Merv, run.’ I was so sure that he was right here with me,” she said, motioning to her side.
“I looked back and saw the bullet in his head. I had this baby (Merv’s 4-month old cousin) in my hand. I remember rolling him on the ground. That was the most horrible experience that I’ve ever experienced in my life. Whoever did it, just come forward.”
The bittersweet truth that she was present when Merv was born and when he died brings more tears.
“I want to tell my grandbaby that I’m sorry. Grandma is so sorry. I couldn’t fix it for him. I always fixed things for him, but grandma couldn’t fix that for him. I’m just telling my grandbaby that I’m so sorry. Merv, I’m so sorry,” she said through sobs.
While the family doesn’t know who the assailant was, Richard strongly believes that he was a young black man who belongs to what he calls a “heartless culture” that kills for the sake of killing.
He shook his head, “I don’t think he knew him personally, but he still knew that he was a kid and he still chose to pull that trigger,” Richard said. “Merv was a victim of this culture that doesn’t value life.”