NEW ORLEANS — The holidays are supposed to bring families together to share good times. But last year, Christmas changed the dynamic for LaRicha Rousell. Her 14-year-old son, Ja’ Mere Alfred, was gunned down outside a drugstore in New Orleans.
Ja’ Mere is described as a fun-loving kid who loved his family, football and band. His life was cut short on Christmas Day 2020. The gunmen are still at large.
To help cope with her grief and to help others going through similar situations, Rousell founded two nonprofits: the King Ja’ Mere Alfred Foundation, which focuses on kids who have lost siblings to gun violence; and Mothers Empowered For Justice, which helps families seeking justice stay abreast of their loved one’s cases.
Rousell, for her part, refuses to give up on obtaining justice for Ja’ Mere and continues to uplift his memory.
Zenger spoke with Rousell to discuss Ja’ Mere’s legacy, the foundations she has set up, and the gun violence in New Orleans.
Percy Crawford interviewed LaRicha Rousell for Zenger.
Zenger: Tell us about what it was like to receive that call about Ja’ Mere on Christmas Day last year.
Rousell: When I first received the call, I was told that there had been an accident. I was thinking car accident. Mind you, Ja’ Mere went away for 14 years with family for Christmas. He never missed a year. He would always go. I wasn’t told right then and there that it was a shooting or that he was murdered. I didn’t know until his dad got to the hospital and things started going downhill. I was devastated. Ja’ Mere was left with family. He went to Walgreens with cousins, and then this situation happened.
Zenger: Obviously, Ja’ Mere wasn’t the target, but was this a random shooting?
Rousell: It was not a random shooting, and the target was someone else, not Ja ‘Mere.
Zenger: Has there been any arrest for his killing or is this ongoing?
Rousell: It’s still an open case. Ja’ Mere was with family, so family has to be accountable and come to the surface to tell the truth. An innocent 14-year-old child was murdered.
Zenger: Can you describe what type of kid Ja ‘Mere was?
Rousell: Ja’ Mere was a fun, witty kid, an old soul. He loved band, football, and loved me, his dad and his siblings, his teammates and his friends. He was just a sweet kid. He never caught a whooping, was very smart, stayed to himself. He loved his family.
Zenger: How imperative was it for you to not only tell his story, but also continue to shed light on the violence that takes place in New Orleans on a daily basis?
Rousell: When I got the phone call and I realized that my shoes as a parent… and don’t get me wrong, Ja’ Mere has two parents, and he always will. But when I realized the role of parenting changed, I wanted to make a difference. I knew that was something that Ja ‘Mere would want me to do. For me to live his legacy and also be a blessing to other people and other families.
I told God that I didn’t want to get stuck. This kind of stuff is designed to lay a parent out. For myself, Ja’ Mere is my only child; to his dad, he is the baby boy. I can only imagine what he goes through, as well. I wanted to be different and to heal other parents that are going through this kind of stuff. Is it hard? Yes, it is. I can’t have any more kids. But I feel like God is birthing change through me through this process.
Zenger: I’m sure it’s tough for you when you hear gunfire or watch the news and see the continuous violence.
Rousell: It is tough. I really don’t watch the news, but I have a team of people that tell me what’s going on. Like the 11-year-old was murdered the other night. They were shooting at somebody, and she got shot. It is just ridiculous. I just don’t understand it. I think the youth, the ones that are doing this, you’re not even shooting the people that you’re trying to shoot, which means you shouldn’t be shooting anybody.
Innocent people are being affected by this. When it happens, the person [killed] goes on to be with the Lord, but it’s the family that suffers. Sometimes there is no comeback. You have families that are torn and broken, parents separate or divorce and, in some cases, parents just lose their mind.
Zenger: His birthday was a week ago, and he would have turned 15. Christmas is right around the corner —how did his being killed on Christmas Day change the way you celebrate the holiday season?
Rousell: I just honor him. One thing I always say, Ja’ Mere is not here in physical form, but his spirit is just so real. That will never leave us. As long as I live, I’m going to continue to live his legacy in both foundations, and do what I have to do for him, his legacy and continue to do for other people.
Rousell: The King Ja’ Mere Foundation is set up for siblings that have lost other siblings through senseless gun violence, with academics, with band and football. We have scholarships and we donate for that. Mothers Empowered for Justice is more for the families that have been affected by this. The mental health part of it — putting them in direction with their case managers and detectives.
I get a lot of phone calls that the detectives are not calling back, and you go through that. I’ve been blessed that I don’t really have that problem, but other families go through that. And it really makes the families give up. But I told them since day one, I’m not giving up on my child’s case.
Zenger: What has been the most difficult part about Ja’ Mere not being here anymore?
Rousell: I miss him so much. I’ve gotten better, a little bit. We would send him off to football practice every year for the summertime. In the beginning, I really just felt that he was gone away to either Atlanta or Houston to practice and that he would come back. That’s what I really had in my mind. And then God just kept saying, “Richa, you know that that’s not right.” So, I have gotten better with it.
Sometimes my mind tends to go to the left, but I get it. He’s in heaven, I don’t believe that Ja’ Mere suffered. He’s with the master, he’s with God, and he’s resting. His case will never go cold. God promised me justice and I believe that. I believe God is going to make the truth come to surface.
Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Judith Isacoff