Mom of PJ Evans, Innocent 8-Year-Old Killed in Drive-By Shooting, Says His Legacy Keeps Her Going
PJ Evans was struck by a stray bullet when a drive-by shooting occurred near his aunt’s home. The 8-year-old rising football star was having dinner with his cousins, PlayStation controller still in hand, when he was killed.
Peyton John "PJ" Evans was having, by all accounts, an 8-year-old's dream day when the world came crashing down around him and all he loved.
He had just finished football practice the afternoon of Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021. The practice had been a friendly scrimmage with the team he would join the following week, when school would begin and he would enter the third grade.
PJ was known as the biggest kid in his class, and he had been bragging to his mom the entire car ride home about how he was a better football player than all the other kids on the field, and how he couldn’t wait for the season to begin.
“He just was talking trash like, ‘Yeah mom, you saw me. I was crushing them. Man, they was soft, they was soft,’” his mom Tiffani Evans told Inside Edition Digital. “He was like, ‘I'm telling you, I'm about to have a good season.’”
They arrived at PJ’s aunt’s house after the practice and PJ quickly settled into his meal with his cousins, one hand on a taco, another on a PlayStation controller. It was a Tuesday, and their extended family always got together once a week to enjoy taco Tuesday, a family tradition.
His mom Tiffani and her partner were on the front porch relaxing and joking around when a drive-by shooting interrupted their afternoon and changed their lives forever.
“Literally all we heard was ‘Pow, pow, pow, pow, pow, pow, pow,’” she said. “It was probably like 30 rounds just going off.”
When she ran back inside, she saw her 8-year-old son slumped over his PlayStation controller, his taco still in his hand. A stray bullet lodged itself into the side of his head.
“It was the worst day of my life,” Tiffani said.
It has been nearly a year since Tiffani lost her son. His small bedroom has been redone with portraits created of him post mortem, a framed jersey he would have worn that season and life-size cutouts that were displayed at his funeral. Where he slept and all of his belongings remain untouched.
Many in the community have supported Tiffani in the wake of her son’s murder, from a local funeral home that specializes in serving families affected by violent crime, to her son’s young friends who celebrate PJ’s would-be milestones, to the authorities who have been diligent in helping her get justice.
Tiffani credits the community’s support for her survival today.
“I'm just trying to relearn me, because I built my life over the last eight years being a mother and trying to be everything for him,” she said. “I lost myself, you know what I'm saying? So just relearning who I am as a person.”
The Day Everything Changed for Tiffani Evans
Tiffani remembers the moments after the shooting as if it happened yesterday.
She was the last one into the home, and the last to spot PJ’s slumped over body, but the first to run to his side. Even though PJ was big – he stood at 5 feet tall and weighed 144 pounds at the time, at least half a foot taller and double the weight of the average 8-year-old – Tiffani remembers suddenly gaining what she called “Hercules” strength to pick him up and lay him on the ground.
She relied on the CPR techniques she learned in the police academy and began working on PJ, but she wasn’t able to restart his breathing.
All she could think about was how long it was taking the ambulance to arrive, she said. “It probably took the ambulance like 10 minutes to get to me,” she recalled. “I’m just like, ‘Why is it taking so long?’ It just felt like an hour.”
PJ was shot in the head, “a main part of the brain,” Tiffani later learned. The bullet entered his ear and never exited.
Tiffani realized he wasn’t coming back when the ambulance took him away.
“I told my partner when I went outside, I said, ‘My son is gone. They ain’t had the lights on the ambulance. I’m not stupid,’” Tiffani said. “I’m not stupid. I knew my son was gone.”
She continued praying on the drive to the children’s hospital, but the moment she arrived, she was greeted by a doctor who told her he had done everything he could, but PJ was dead. Tiffani went to be with her son.
“I stayed with him for a while, just talking to him, loving on him, kissing on him, smelling him,” she said of the moments that followed.
Burying Her Child
It was important to Tiffani to have an open casket funeral.
“He was everybody’s kid,” Tiffani said. “Why not let everybody see him one last time? He deserved that.”
Though the practice isn’t typical for those who suffered violent deaths, a funeral home in the community, Compassion and Serenity Funeral Home, specializes in performing restorative art for victims of violent crimes like PJ. Funeral home co-owner Wes Chavis III’s mission is to present the deceased at their best during their open casket funeral.
“Tiffani, she was a sweetheart,” the funeral home’s co-owner Wes Chavis III told Inside Edition Digital, “We’ve served the family before. It’s so hard, you don’t know what to say to people when they keep coming back to you. We have so many families that have come to us three or four times in one year.”
Compassion and Serenity Funeral Home is located squarely in Prince George’s County, Maryland – a suburb on the borders of D.C. and Virginia that has been plagued by violent crime since the 1980s. The county peaked in homicides in 2005, with 161 killings investigated that year and dipped between 2009 to 2019, with investigated homicides in the double-digits for an extended period of time, according to data shared with Inside Edition Digital by Prince George County officials.
Many hoped 2012, with the lowest number of homicides investigated since 1986, marked the end of the troubling era in Prince George County. But following an uptick in crime in 2020, which many attributed to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its contribution to desperation and mental health issues, both experts and locals fear homicide rates will once again rise.
In 2021, the year PJ was killed, Prince George County authorities investigated 136 homicides, a spokesperson with the police department told Inside Edition Digital – the highest number in 15 years. So far in 2022, Prince George County authorities have investigated 45 homicides.
In the D.C. Metropolitan area, which encompasses Prince George County, authorities investigated 226 suspected homicides in 2021, up 14% from the previous year. No other type of crime in the area rose at such a steep rate.
So far this year, D.C. Metropolitan police have investigated 104 homicides – a number up 17% from this time last year, putting 2022 on course to peak in suspected homicides once again.
“It’s on an all-time high, and it’s scary, it’s crazy. You don’t even want to go out at night,” Tiffani said. “It’s sad, we can’t even enjoy the weather, and I know it’s going to get worse this summer.”
Tiffani is not alone in her worries. Many other residents also expressed concern about the rising trend.
“Our young people are getting killed at, actually, record numbers,” said grieving mother Cathy Marshall, whose son Clayton Marshall was shot and killed in April. “We’re burying our children every day, and this has got to stop.”
Prince George County is predominantly Black, with 64.4% of its population identifying as Black or African American, according to census data. Additionally, 19.5% of the population identified as Hispanic or Latino as of July 2021.
Compassion and Serenity Funeral Home is sensitive to ensuring that grieving families don’t feel like their loved ones were simply part of a wider statistic.
“Primarily, we service the Black community,” Chavis said. “We do quite a bit of homicides because of the area we’re in, close to D.C. where the homicide rate is up. As it gets warmer, usually the homicide rate goes up, but the homicide rate’s been up pretty much [all the time] lately.”
Chavis and his partner Dani Skinner make it their mission to organize exemplary services, “so they don’t feel like it’s, ‘Wham, bam, thank you ma’am,’” Chavis said. “We want them to know that we really cared and we put our best into representing your loved one for this day.”
That began with restorative work that allowed PJ’s loved ones to view him one last time.
“Restorative art is to recreate natural form and color … If it’s some structural damage, we recreate the structure (that was) damaged and create proper form and the proper color,” he said.
The bullet entered PJ’s temple and distorted the side of his face, but did not leave an exit wound, making his restoration more straightforward, Chavis said. “I used a little wax and we put a little make up over it and his hair, and it was totally concealed,” Chavis said.
Tiffani, who only saw PJ following the shooting with bandages over his head and face, said he looked perfect. “He looked like he was asleep. He looked like he was at peace,” she said. “He made sure my son went home well.”
The Aftermath of a Senseless Killing
The days that followed PJ’s murder are hazy for Tiffani.
“I don’t think we slept for like two days. I stayed up. I ain’t get no rest,” she said. “And it wasn’t just me. Nobody around me. Everybody that was around. Nobody went home. Nobody went home. Everybody stayed with us. We never slept. We stayed up.”
In the days that followed, Tiffani’s mother’s home was home base for her and her loved ones. At least 50 loved ones could be found at the house at any given moment, supporting each other as they worked through their grief.
“If it was standing outside crying, or whatever, we had a full house the whole month,” she recalled. “Every day, people just bringing food, just loving on us. You’ve got to have that, because if not, we would have lost it.”
That sense of love and community continues on a year after PJ’s death. The family still gathers for Taco Tuesdays, PJ’s favorite family dinner of the week now turned into a tradition his loved ones continue in his honor.
“Every Tuesday, we’ve got a house full. Every Tuesday, my family and friends, they never fail us,” she said. “And at 8:21 pm, everybody, we celebrate his life. We scream, we laugh, we cry, whatever.”
Seeking Justice in PJ Evans' Murder
Twenty-one days after PJ was killed, Prince George’s County authorities arrested the men they said were responsible: George Shamman, 23; Desmond Nkwocha, 21; and his brother Mark Nkwocha, 23.
The trio had been in a white sedan driving toward another group of adults when one of the men inside the car opened fire on the group, police said.
Police believe the shooting was carried out in retaliation for another shooting that occured the day before. A 21-year-old later told police that he believed he was the intended target because he fired at the three suspects the day before, according to court documents.
The only person shot was PJ, who had been inside the house.
Shamman and the Nkwocha brothers were indicted on dozens of charges each, including attempted first-degree murder, second-degree murder and weapons related charges, among others, police said.
The three men have not yet entered pleas, and their trials are set to begin in September and December of this year.
Shamman’s lawyer denied Inside Edition Digital’s request for comment. The Nkwocha brothers’ attorneys have not yet responded to a request for comment.
The man who believed he was the intended target was also charged with attempted murder, first-degree assault, use of a firearm in the commission of a violent crime and reckless endangerment in connection with the shooting the day before, according to news reports.
Life Today for Those Who Loved PJ Evans
Tiffani’s grieving process continues, but she now finds comfort in the huge community that loved PJ.
The football team PJ was slated to join still treats her like she is one of them, even though PJ was killed before the season began.
“My son, he passed away 20 minutes after he was just with his teammates, so it was kind of hard for them, they ain’t understand it,” she said. “We was just on the football field with him, and now he’s gone, so they took it very hard. But they loved on me, they loved me and they still do. Those are my boys for life.”
She’s as dedicated to the team as they are to her. She’s donated to the team football jerseys and gym bags with the words “Long Live PJ” inscribed alongside their own names and numbers.
“I made sure his team was good. I wanted to make sure they had stuff that honored my son when they’re walking on the football field,” she said.”
On what would have been PJ’s ninth birthday, she threw a birthday party for all of his friends. “I wanted to have all the kids in one place, just to have fun and honor my son because he wasn’t here to celebrate his birthday,” she said.
But ultimately, there is no healing after losing a child.
“It’s kind of hard. My partner, she wanted to do something for my birthday this year – I turn 35 in August – and I’m just like, ‘I don’t even want to do it. My son not here to celebrate this birthday, what is it for me?’” she said.
Every morning, Tiffani says she makes it a point to drive PJ’s younger stepbrother to school – a moment of family bonding that is all the more important following PJ’s death. “He really misses his brother because that was his housemate, that was his best friend,” Tiffani said. “He watches his funeral literally every other day on his iPad, he knows how to pull it up. He looks at the funeral and he cries.”
But she remembers PJ would have wanted her to carry on – a small piece of encouragement she passes along. “My oldest [stepson], he’s taking it really hard. He’s trying to get out of high school, and at the end of the day, I tell him, ‘You got to keep pushing, for PJ. At the end of the day, he’s not here to walk the stage, I want to see you walk the stage and honor your brother,’” Tiffani said.
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