Tyler Nichols was fatally stabbed two days before Christmas while defending his brother against a random attack. Police told his mom to brace for an onslaught of media coverage, but it never came. So, his family is cementing his legacy on their own.
Two days before Christmas 2020, when many around the world were preparing to spend time with loved ones and to make memories to pass down for generations, the Nichols family's world was upended by a senseless act of violence that haunts them to this day.
On Dec. 23, 2020, Tyler Kobe Nichols, 21, and his brother, Shayne, 24, were walking to their Brooklyn, New York, home from a nearby barber shop when the unthinkable occurred.
Shayne allegedly made eye contact with a man in a car and once he did, the man got out of the car and began accosting and attacking him, their family told Inside Edition Digital. Tyler stepped in to help his brother, and four other men came out of the vehicle and began attacking the siblings, the family said.
In the melee, which lasted just under a minute before his attackers fled, Tyler was stabbed three times, with the knife penetrating every major organ.
Though his heart, spleen, kidney and lungs had been stabbed, Tyler still tried to finish his walk home. Shayne rushed to call their family, and moments later, Tyler died in his cousin Kareem’s arms.
As they mourned the best among them, Tyler's family turned their grief into a call to action. The result was a book in collaboration with photographer Spencer Ostrander and author Paul Auster, “Long Live King Kobe.” The well-loved and respected Brooklyn family also focuses on helping others who have been affected by similar acts of violence.
“A lot of people don't like speaking about death and a loved one. They feel like if they bring it up to us, we'll get sad,” Tyler’s mother, Sherma Chambers, told Inside Edition Digital. “There are sad moments because we miss Ty, but speaking about him, I don't know. It gives us a strength; it gives us that push.”
“A Very Vibrant Soul”
Tyler Kobe Nichols was born into a large and loving family that put down roots in Brooklyn after immigrating from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines more than three decades ago. Many members of the family called a three-family house in the quiet neighborhood of Kensington home, including Tyler, who was known by loved ones as Kobe.
"It's a very close family. So it's a lot of people, and the crazy part is the people that would come to see Tyler," Tyler's cousin, Kareem Eusebe, told Inside Edition Digital, noting about 15 family members including Tyler lived in the same house.
"The house was always like a community center, in a sense," Kareem said.
Growing up in such close quarters brought Kareem and Tyler close. “Cousins is what we use for our language, but our relationship was brothers,” he said.
Named after the famous Los Angeles Lakers player, Kobe Bryant, Tyler seemed keen to follow in his namesake's footsteps. Tyler became a star basketball player in high school and even once met his hero as a teenager at a camp the legendary baller put on in California.
“Tyler actually was very impressive on court because Kobe actually said [to my son], ‘Wow, you got some moves there,’ because he was a very good player,” Sherma proudly said.
When Bryant died in January 2020, Tyler got the legendary Laker player’s number eight tattooed on his stomach.
“When Kobe passed in January, he was very sad. He was very devastated,” Sherma said. The family would come to regard the basketball hall of famer’s passing as the foreshadowing of the tragedy that hit them later that year.
Tyler and his girlfriend, Ashley, began dating when he was 11 years old and were inseparable. The family says the couple would have no doubt gotten engaged one day. He was working on certification on becoming an HVAC operator and begin his career in that field.
Tyler was a homebody who enjoyed listening to music, cutting his own hair, playing video games, watching TV and shooting hoops. Though he was the youngest of four boys, he was also wise beyond his years, and could be counted on to offer advice to friends and family. To those who knew Tyler best, he was a voice of reason.
Young people in the neighborhood called Tyler the “hood therapist,” as he offered advice to friends and family on what to do in life and how to stay out of trouble.
“The type of young man he was, he always gave of himself. I was proud to see him graduate from junior high, high school. Tyler was the only one of my boys who never gave me a problem when it came to school…And that's one of the proudest things for me is that he had his head on, he knew what he was about,” Sherma said.
Among those who turned to Tyler for guidance was his brother Shayne, with whom he was very close, their mother said. Tyler helped Shayne through a particularly hard moment in life, after which he got "My Brother's Keeper" tattooed on his body, Sherma said. Like Kobe's death, the almost prophetic tattoo would come to mean so much more to Tyler's family.
Tyler was the center of attention without trying to be, and he would go on to do in death as he did in life – bring people together.
A Brother’s Keeper
Tyler rarely went out, but decided to attend a party a close friend was throwing on Christmas Eve in Manhattan. Wanting to look good for the holidays, Tyler opted to have his hair cut professionally instead of doing it himself and accompanied his brother to the local barber shop.
“He wanted to feel fresh,” Kareem said.
The two brothers also planned to treat themselves and their significant others to an Airbnb in Manhattan so they could spend the night in the borough after the party. Though such plans sound routine for some, much of the plan was out of Tyler's comfort zone, his family said. But the 21-year-old was going all out in the name of a memorable experience, they said.
Following the haircuts, the two brothers set out to walk home.
Just before 8 p.m. on the eve of Christmas Eve, in front of a well-lit car wash just a block from their home, the Nichols brothers encountered a group of men who quickly became violent, ABC 7 reported at the time.
The men involved in the fight hurled racial slurs at Tyler and Shayne, the family said Shayne told them. After the stabbing, the men jumped back into their vehicle and drove away, the family said.
“Crime is not something that you see so often…So at that time, couples are walking their dogs. This is the type of neighborhood. People are jogging. That happened right in front of a busy car wash,” Kareem said.
Sherma was working that night, but the rest of their family were at home together laughing hysterically at a TV show at the time of Tyler's stabbing. Shayne was able to get ahold of Ashley, Tyler's girlfriend, and she told the rest of the family what happened. Kareem rushed to the scene, where his cousin lay bleeding.
“Let me tell you something. The moment was such a contrast, because we were cracking up laughing… from that moment to complete chaos," Kareem said. "I run up there, I tried to hold his wound. Shane said he's bleeding. I look, I see the wound, so I'm pressurizing them and just trying to keep him there. So it was from a high moment, like holidays, very beautiful Christmas moment to just utter destruction.”
Emergency responders transported Tyler's to a nearby hospital while Sherma’s other nephew, Chris, called his aunt. Sherma could recount the conversation between her and her nephew almost verbatim.
"’Auntie, you got to come home. Something happened to Ty.’ ‘Chris, what's going on?’ ‘Auntie, you got to come home,'" she said. "And I'm like, ‘Chris, what happened? You got to tell me what's going on.’ And I'm hearing all the commotion in the background and then my significant other got on the phone and he's like, ‘Sherma, I'm going to send the boys for you, come home.’ I'm like, ‘Sly, what's going on?’ And then all of a sudden I hear Kareem screaming, ‘Tyler don't leave. Tyler, Tyler, stay with me. Tyler.’ Right away I know this is not good."
Sherma, a manager at Lowe’s, said she was in the back of the store when she took the phone call. Her screams echoed throughout the entire warehouse. "I was screaming so loud that I didn't even know. My peers heard me in the front of the store and ran back to receiving, to find out what's going on. And I'm telling them, 'something happened, something happened to Tyler,'” she said.
As a coworker drove Sherma to the hospital, they picked up her nephews Kareem and Chris along the way. They then received a call from Tyler’s older brother, Shomari.
“’'What do you mean, he's gone?! Shomari, don't tell me my baby boy is gone. Don't tell me that. Do not tell me that!’” Sherma recalled telling her oldest son.
Sherma was kept from seeing her son because his body was evidence, she said. As the family returned home, they had to face the fact that the crime scene was visible from their house.
“I got to where the incident actually happened. And I saw all the police cars and the caution tape. It really hit me that my son didn't just die, he was murdered. This is a crime scene,” Sherma said.
“It's like a block away. Where Tyler fell, you could see it from my porch. We have to pass that every day. Going up the block, I have to drive up the block. I try to avoid around the corner. If I have to drive in other places to get home, I do that. But leaving my house, I have to drive up the block where he fell the last time where everybody ran up the block and saw him there,” she added.
As the crime occurred just two days before Christmas, the family were told by police to brace for a storm of media. But only one reporter knocked on their door, Sherma said. It was as if Tyler’s killing— which occurred amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which at that point was especially pummeling the New York metropolitan area, social justice protests and a heated U.S. Presidential election— had been swept under the rug.
What Came After the Killing of Tyler Kobe Nichols
Tyler’s funeral was held in early January 2021.
Photographer Spencer Ostrander had been traveling America chronicling the aftermath of mass shootings for research on a book he and his father-in-law, author Paul Auster, were putting together when he came across Tyler’s story after speaking to the funeral director.
Ostrander says that the funeral director told him Tyler was a victim of gun violence and he should come to the funeral and speak to his family. Upon entering the funeral home, Ostrander met Sherma, who corrected the director’s mistake and said her son was stabbed.
“It was a very respectful, quiet, very quiet funeral. When I walked in there all his friends, it was open casket. I wanted to remain very respectful,” Ostrander said to Inside Edition Digital. “What really captivated me was Sherma saying, ‘I don't want revenge. I want to look [the killer] in the eye.’ And I understood then the power of this woman to try to get to the bottom of this.”
Sherma and the photographer spoke. She gave him permission to photograph the funeral. They exchanged information and he asked to give her a hug.
“When Spencer asked me, if he can give me a hug after he finished taking the pictures and just being there at the service, it was the most genuine hug I've ever received from a perfect stranger,” she said. "I felt his genuineness.”
Weeks after the funeral, Sherma found a piece of paper with her new photographer friend’s phone number. She called him, and after some time, he asked to meet the rest of the family.
“He's really somewhat still alive in that house,” Ostrander said. “It's a really fascinating thing to learn about someone through their death, which is what I did. It's hard for me to believe that I never met him in person at this point because you get aspects, people reflect other people's personalities and people leave traces everywhere.”
As he met the large loving family, the idea for a book came out.
“There was no reason why he got stabbed. He had never met the person. He was a block away from his house. These types of stories need to be told. People need to have empathy with these other families of what they're going through. So my goal is that people digest this book and have a deep truth and reconciliation discussion about why America is so violent,” he said.
Ostrander became an honorary member of the family with his frequent visits and constant communication with them. He saw their resilience in forging ahead through grief, pain, and unforeseen circumstances in hope for a better tomorrow.
“This is a middle-class working family in New York. This is not gang bangers. This is not drug dealers. This is good American family,” he said.
Ostrander would meet with the family regularly. He photographed them using natural light and listened to what they had to say. The result was “Long Live King Kobe,” the book which also would be the name of a foundation and hopefully a community center in honor of the slain 21-year-old.
“Once Tyler died, rather than recoil into depression, [his family] got up and they said, ‘You know what? Let's make a foundation,’” Ostrander said.
The family's foundation, Long Live King Kobe, is “dedicated to preventing street violence through peaceful and compassionate initiatives,” according to their website. Sherma holds “healing sessions” for mothers in the area whose children have died by violence.
“We, the mothers, are going to have to [do it]. We might not make it better for everybody, but if we can save one child, get them on the right path and we can continue doing that, at least speak to each other, we could get something going to help them,” Sherma said.
Long Live King Kobe
Following Tyler's death, police promised Sherma that they would capture those responsible.
In March 2021, 18-year-old Javokhir Nematov was arrested and charged with second-degree murder, first-degree gang assault, second-degree gang assault and second-degree assault.
Police arrested him after he was pulled over for having his car windows tinted too dark. In the vehicle, police said they recovered a knife. He also fit the description in road rage incident that occurred prior to Tyler’s death where the victim was slashed in the face, police said.
Nematov has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Tyler's family has attended all of Nematov's court appearances. Shayne cannot attend because he is part of the case and investigation. “I make it my business. Anytime this young man has a hearing and it's not just me, his dad, Ash, every single one of us,” Sherma said.
Sherma has been surprised by Nematov’s appearance each time she lays eyes on him.
“I've seen him twice now. I've seen him the first in person, hearing I saw him. And when he came out, he looked like he was working out and he looked all buff. And I said, ‘This does not look like an 18-year-old child, this looked like a man," she said. "The next time I saw him, when we went to another hearing... This time around, he looked very frail, had lost a lot of weight."
The Department of Corrections and the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, which treats patients inside correctional facilities, declined Inside Edition Digital's requests for comment regarding Nematov. Nematov's attorney has not responded to Inside Edition Digital's multiple requests for comment. The Kings County District Attorney's Office also declined a request for comment.
Sherma leads the way for the family in healing. She told Inside Edition Digital she has actually come to forgive the man charged in her son's killing and one day would like to talk to him.
“Honestly, my heart goes out to him and his parents because you didn't only ruin our family's lives, you ruined your life, your family life because now they're going through this with you. It's not just him going through it. And I felt so sad because I would like to speak to this young man. Sometime in life I would like to speak to him," she said.
“My child was a forgiving child. If Tyler had beef with you, he'll tell you how he feels and he'll move on. He's not going to hold a grudge, he's not going to hold it up in him, that's not who he was. That's not how I was raised. Me wanting the worst for this young man is not going to bring Ty back," Sherma continued. "If I have the opportunity to help with his incarceration, where he can be somewhere, where he can come back out and pay forward and help some of these youths out here who want to pick up a knife or gun and do what they're doing.
"If he can come out after he serve his time and pay it forward by doing something different, I would love to be a part of that. I would love to help him. That's why I say I want to talk to him,” she said.
As Tyler's case was left largely uncovered by the media, Sherma and the family are doing all they can to make sure his story isn’t forgotten. Some in Tyler's family, as well as Ostrander, believe that if Tyler were white, his case would have gained more attention.
“I kind of operate in a frame of mind where I operate with no excuses, but I certainly felt that throughout this entire process,” Kareem said.
With the publication of “Long Live King Kobe” in May of this year, and the book events surrounding the release, more attention is being paid to what happened to Tyler.
“The only thing you can control is how you react, how you conceptualize the occurrence and how you react going forward. What we decide to do is make his life beneficial for the world," Kareem said.
"Anything that we lost, we're going to turn it into something that's beneficial for everyone in his legacy so that we can look at the girl who gets the scholarship, and she goes to law school," he continued. "This started because of our pain. Or we could look at the mother that was able to open up. Her healing started because our pain, because of Tyler's sacrifice to save his brother."
“This is this book was really for them. I don't know what it is in me that I felt so embraced by this family. And I wanted to do it right by them,” Ostrander said. "As the grieving process started to happen, those emotions that their cycle of grief moves and to have witness of that time preserved, I hope can really make a difference in people.”
The telling of Tyler’s story is what keeps him alive, according to the family. His bedroom has been basically left as he had it. His sneakers are in the same place he always kept them; his video game controllers remain in the spot he laid them down the last time he played. His girlfriend, Ashley, has since moved into his old room and sleeps in his bed.
There are echoes of him everywhere.
Sherma says all of her sons’ friends, even those she barely knew before, drop by the home to not only keep her company, but also to feel his presence. She appreciates the love and enjoys it when the house is full, especially knowing that if her son's friends are with her, they're being kept out of trouble.
She hopes to replicate what she's created in her home in a community center for the same reasons: to give the people of the neighborhood a safe space for expression, love, openness and honesty. Those interested in donating to creating the community center can do so through a GoFundMe campaign Kareem created. To date, about $15,000 has been raised.
“They can't live for themselves. So live for them. Do what comes natural. And for me, what comes natural is telling everyone about Tyler, about how loving he was, how caring he was,” she said. “Kareem always tells me to move like water and that helps me so much.”
"I want them to have a safe haven. I want them to have somewhere where they can come and express themselves because I don't think they have that," she said.
“A lot of our Black boys and Black men, they don't go out there looking for a fight," she continued. "Unfortunately, they get caught up in situations. That night that my two boys who were involved in that situation, all they were trying to do is come home."