Highland ICU

As I returned to the waiting area to give an update, again, I was trying to figure out, how to convey, that which I, was yet to fully comprehend; 17 gunshots wounds, 3 guns, 3 shooters; Vin’s repeated account of the black truck, the man with the hoodie and the AK. He would repeat those 3 details over and over again. As I walked through the double doors, everyone who was there began to circle up. I don’t recall the words I spoke. I believe I gave the update. I know I said that Vinnie needed to rest and everybody should go home, get some rest and come back later. I know I promised them that they would all be able to see him when they came back. I remember looking up and seeing tears, streaming down faces. I had done a good job of holding it together, I got choked up, my words wouldn’t come out. I think it was Dolla who grabbed me and said, “Don’t worry Mom-Zos, we’ll be back”. I remember Steve asking me if I needed anything. I asked for the staples that you need in a crisis, a toothbrush, some toothpaste and a cup of coffee.

Var accompanied back to Vin’s room  when I returned to Vin’s side.  As Var walked into the ICU room, he saw Vinnie for the first time. He sat in the chair next to him, put his face in the palms of his hands and began to cry. These two had been best friends since they were 10 years old. We lived across the hall from each other in San Leandro. They grew up together. They did everything together. They had their first sons within months of each other. They were the best of friends. It was Var, not me, that Vin called, twice after being shot and seeing his friend dead next to him. I can not begin to imagine what was going through Var’s mind at that moment. I only know that looking at Var cry was my straw. I began to cry; the first of two times during this entire horrible ordeal.

I heard Vinnie say, “Mama, what are you crying for? You don’t even cry.”

“You got shot, Baby. Can I cry today?”

I left the room to give the boys, my boys time together.

I returned to the room after speaking with the nurse. This time Tootie and JeNae accompanied me. I still have no idea when JeNae arrived at Oakland International Airport from So Cal. I just know when it comes to getting there, we know how to get to getting. I also know this to be true, in the most serious situation, if our family is involved, there will undoubtedly be some shenanigans. If Tootie, JeNae and I are together, the shenanigans are guaranteed.

The ICU nurse informed me that we need to complete a form listing everyone who would be allowed to visit Vinnie, while he was in the ICU. Tootie, JeNae and I were the perfect ones to create said list cause we are known to run a tight ship. The listing of names went something like this:

JeNae: “Kendra Brown”*

Me: “Write that down Tootie. Okay, Var. Trevar, right that down”

Tootie: “What’s Var’s last name?”

Me: “Uh…wait, I know I know his last name.” Silence. “Okay, we’ll come back to that. Spank, put Spank on the list.

JeNae: “What is Spank’s real name?”

Me: “I don’t know and his last name is the same as Var’s which right now I don’t know either. Okay, we’ll have to come back to Spank too. Dolla, write Dolla down Too.”

Tootie: “Ay, what’s Dolla’s real name.”

Me: Looking at her like something is wrong with her, “I don’t know. Dolla.”

JeNae: “Mama, we can’t just put Dolla”

Me: “Why not? That’s what we call him. Okay, we’ll come back to him too. Petey, write down Petey.”

Tootie: “What’s Petey’s last name?”

Me: With a straight face “Crack, Petey Crack”

For the first time, we all laugh. I knew that wasn’t his last name. In fact his first name is not even Petey. To this day, I don’t even know how or why that’s his nickname. His name is Brandon. Turned out the list was short, really short. In fact, that pretty much concluded our attempt at making the ICU Visiting List because I couldn’t think of anybody’s real name. I have since learned that being unable to recall information that you know is a natural part of processing something so tragic. Trauma impacts the brain’s ability to remember information that you absolutely know. (Which is why “interviewing” victims and/or witnesses to violence immediately following the event often is not a good idea, but that’s another post for another day.)

There is much I remember clearly; there is much that is a blurr; there is much that I remember the gist of what happened.

I remember Pastor Smith arriving at the hospital. Vinnie was still in ICU. Pastor and I spoke briefly prior to his going in to see Vin. He always wants all the details…his injuries, the prognosis, what I knew about the shooting, had the police been there. I didn’t mind the inquisition cause I an a detailed oriented person as well.

I have known Pastor Smith for many years. Before he was Pastor, Minister or even Deacon. Our families have spent lots of time together, holidays, birthdays or just hanging out. I knew them when they were Kirk and Qwivander. He knew me when JeNae, Vinnie and I lived in Spartan City while I attended San Jose State.

We have history. More importantly, we have mad, crazy love for each other. He has know Vinnie practically Vin’s whole life. He had been a big brother, mentor, father figure long before he was Vin’s Pastor and boss. I had served in ministry with Pastor Smith for at least 15 years at that point. We have seen the good, the bad, the ugly; the happy, the sad, the devastation in people’s lives as we served in ministry together. Always the encourager, always giving the right Word at the right time. In all his ministry and life experience, he wasn’t prepared for what he saw when he walked in that room and saw his surrogate son lying there. It was way too personal. I certainly wasn’t ready for Pastor’s reaction. I excused myself and let he and Vin have some privacy. To this day, I have no idea what was said or not said. What I do know is that that day, the depth, the magnitude of the relationship and the love which exist between Vinnie and Pastor Smith was overwhelming and indescribable.

Vinnie was moved out of ICU and to a room a few hours later, once the medical staff at Highland were certain he was stable.  By the time he was in his room,  I had learned a little more of what had transpired the night before. He and Ron had been at a friend’s house where they were supposed to meet DaShawn, (his younger brother) who was, no surprise, late.  Vinnie had gotten tired of waiting for him.

When he and Ron were leaving a black truck blocked the driveway of the apartment complex and prevented them from driving out the parking lot. A man jumped out of the truck and began firing an AK 47. Vin, who had just barely learned to drive a stick shift, was unable to escape the rapid fire. He waited until the shooting stopped, jumped out of the car and began running. He said that when he looked at Ron, he knew he was dead. Today this day, it breaks my heart, what my son must have seen in that car, that night to know that his friend was dead. Truama. PTSD.

As he was running, the shooting resumed. He fell in the street between a car and the curb. He played possum. The shooting stopped. He heard people, he heard sirens, he heard a Oakland Police Officer approach him. Nobody helped him. Nobody helped him. The police officer said, “I’ll let the coroner get him too.” Another ugly, heartbreaking detail Vin recalled as his memory pieced together, over time, the events of that night.

His brother and his friends finally arrived. One of DaShawn’s friends picked Vin up, carried him to the van and they drove him to Children’s Hospital which was closest. This, undoubtedly, saved his life. With 17 gunshot wounds on a Friday night in Oakland, who knows how long an ambulance would have taken to arrive and transport him to Highland which was at least 20 minutes away. Vin never lost consciousness until they put him under to operate on him. He says, of staying conscious, “I knew if I closed my eyes, I would see the light. I wasn’t ready to see Jesus so I knew I had to stay awake”. Clearly someone has watched too much television and movies.

Once Vinnie was settled in his room, I returned to the lobby to give those who had come back to the hospital still another update. As I got off the elevator, there was a group of youngsters I didn’t recognize, except for DaShawn’s girlfriend. I did, however, notice that one of the youngsters, who was my height, if not shorter, had on what had been a white t-shirt and now was covered with blood.

As I stepped off the elevator, DaShawn’s girlfriend* told the group who I was. They begin to talk all at once. “How is he doing?” “Is he gonna make it?” “Can we see him?”

Again, I didn’t know who these dudes were so my answer, to could they see Vin, was an emphatic, “No” without explanation. DaShawn’s girlfriend explained to me who the guys were (DaShawn’s boys) and the one with the bloody t-shirt had carried Vinnie to the van. I remember thinking how? Vin stands about 6 feet, thin with long legs; how did HE carry Vinnie? I thanked him/them for helping Vin; for making sure he got to the hospital.

I explained to them how Vinnie was doing, that he was currently resting and I was not letting anyone other than family visit at this point. The rest of the day is pretty much a blur. People coming and going. Most people hanging out in the lobby area. Lots of people. Grace Bible Fellowship shows up. Family Bible Fellowship shows up. Family and Friends show up. Lots of love and support.

The younger kids were with various Grace family members. Funny thing is to this day I can not say definitely who was with whom. The realest and best thing about having a real church family is that it didn’t matter. Grace stepped up and said, “Don’t worry about CeCe, Noah and Shi, we got them. They will get to school. They will be taken care of. Vinnie needs you most now. We got this.” I still tear up remembering how I didn’t have to figure it out cause my church family had already figured it out for me.

It was decided that we (JeNae and I) would stay at Tootie’s house in Fremont. It was closer and made more since than to go back and forth to Antioch or Mill Valley. We would make a Walmart run to get the essential things we needed and improvise with the rest. As we, Tootie, Chelsea, JeNae and I headed to Fremont to Tootie’s house, it occurred to me that I hadn’t eaten in over 24 hours. In fact, no one had. We decided to go to Quarter Pounder in Hayward.

And it was on the ride home that we almost created the headline, “Son Survives 17 Gunshot Wounds, Mother, Godmother, and Sisters Die In Car Accident”

Stay tuned….

*some names are changed or withheld to protect their anonymity




  1. Wow…so much detail, i luv it. I had to laugh with all on the nicknames of ppl…that must have been hilarious! Thank God for family and church family to step in and help out. And looks like DeShawn was right on time cuz he helped save his brothers life…had he’d been 20mins later, Vin may not have made it. It wasn’t Vin’s time.


  2. Fele (Tooties cousin)

    I’m sitting here in tears! I have watched Vinnie grow up and had not heard the entire story of the shooting. What I did k ow was Tootie saying to pray for him cause he had been shot! God was watching out for him. He has a great work to do. He wants him to continue to flash that million dollar smile and spread his message with his testimony of grace and mercy! This just makes me want to shout!!! I love you Ms Ayoola!!!


    • I don’t know if you have had a chance to read all of my entries but please do. I just posted my latest. I think there are a total of about 11 posts with 5 being specifically about Vinnie. The one I posted today is a lot about Tootie and her initial reaction to hearing the news. I love you too.


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