On the late afternoon of Oct. 4, 2013, Allen Ross, 23, a native New Yorker and new father, made what was then a frequent commute from Staten Island back to his childhood home, the Glenwood Houses housing project in Brooklyn. Ross liked to check-in regularly on his mother and help out where he could—whether it be walking the dogs or odd jobs around the house. But on that day, he had some good news he wanted to share with Victoria Ross, 54, the proud woman who had raised him (the third eldest of four) in Canarsie. He had just been offered a job by UPS.
Around 5:25 p.m., Ross says he stopped by a friend’s house across the street from his mother’s. The friend invited him to sit on the porch but Ross declined because, he later explained, “My instincts said to stay on my feet.”
That was when he went to his mother’s apartment and found that no one was home but his sister, Kenyetta Ross, 29, who was on her way out to walk the family dogs, Victoria Ross later recalled.
And that hopeful moment soon turned into tragedy.
Ross left the empty apartment and made his way down to the lobby, where he opened the door. He later remembered that he felt a cold chill on his arm that he found weird because it was a warm afternoon. He said he thought nothing of it but absentmindedly pausing for a moment, he closed the door.
Ross said he checked his phone one final time at 5:46 p.m. When he opened the door again, he said that Lamar Blackwood, 26, almost immediately punched him in the face. “My whole body went numb at the element of surprise,” Ross recalled. “All I could feel was adrenaline. Fight-or-flight kicked in.”
The fight lasted 54 seconds, according to the surveillance video that was presented at trial. The two men struggled for control with non-stop punching. Ross said that at one point he noticed Blackwood’s gun and the focus of the fight shifted to struggling for control of the weapon. By the end of the fight, multiple shots had been fired, Blackwood was down and Ross remembers being in a state of absolute shock. He later said that he didn’t realize that he had also been shot in the left knee until he sat on the outside steps of his mother’s building.
Ross later said Blackwood was not a complete stranger to him. “I knew of him as ‘Tree,’ ” Ross said. “I never had a conversation with him in my life.” Ross is uncertain of the motive behind the attack but he said he thinks it might have been attempted retribution for an earlier blow-up between a close friend of Ross and Blackwood and his friends.
Friends of Blackwood say he was called “Body” because he was a big guy, about 6’3″. According to these friends—who asked to be identified only as Glenwood residents for personal security reasons—Blackwood lived with his mother and younger brother. Blackwood’s family could not be located. His mother and brother have moved from the neighborhood and left behind no paper trail.
When asked about the dynamics between Blackwood and Ross, the friends suggested that “they knew of each other but weren’t friendly.” Blackwood’s friends remember him as a cool person. “He didn’t have a rep,” one said. “He just loved to play basketball.”
Gun violence is a persistent problem all over the city but particularly in the 63rd Precinct, where Glenwood Houses are located, says Community Affairs Officer Thomas Podd. The precinct currently has a gun buyback program which offers cash reimbursements in exchange for guns. “But the real problem is illegal gun carriers,” Podd said. “No matter the policy change, illegal users are going to do what they want to do.” The 63rd Precinct had eight murders and non-negligent killings in 2013, according to NYPD CompStat 2.0. Citywide statistics show there were 335 such deaths that year.
Both Ross and Blackwood were fathers of young children.
Blackwood is survived by his identical twin boys, who are now around the age of six, according to his friends.
Ross is the father of Akyra, 5, and Prince-Nazaiah, 3. Ross was on the run for almost six months after the murder and later said he intended to turn himself in on April 1, 2014, after his daughter Akyra’s second birthday. Instead, law enforcement officers caught him on March 26.
Surveillance video of the shooting was shown to the jurors at trial, said Ross’s defense attorney, Alan Stutman. Stutman, who retired last year, claims that the footage of the incident is pretty “self-explanatory.” “The video shows someone waiting in the lobby of a project,” he said. “Another person comes into the lobby [Blackwood] and a fight broke out. Then a gun was presented.” When asked about the owner of the gun, he said, “I can’t comment on that. My opinion doesn’t matter. The jury drew its own conclusions on the video.”
Ross was convicted of second-degree murder and three counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon and sentenced to 30 years to life for the fatal shooting.
Earlier this month, Ross agreed to talk during visiting hours at Green Haven Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in Dutchess County.
Green Haven is fortress-like with heavy walls and active guards. But the atmosphere in the visitor center is less forbidding.
Ross said he works on the building maintenance staff. He said he has always been good with his hands. He remembered that he was obsessed with bikes when he was growing up and even older guys in the neighborhood would bring him bikes that needed to be repaired.
“Dirt bikes, motor bikes, pedal bikes… they used to let me ride them in exchange for fixing them,” Ross said. His mother, Victoria Ross, remembers that “he was riding a 10-speed bike at the age of five.”
Ross said that he often gets emotional when he thinks about his family on the other side of the prison walls and constantly wonders “Why me?”
“I sit in my cell thinking about the setbacks and start crying,” Ross said as tears rolled down his face. He remembers all the things he used to do for his family. “My son’s haircuts, walking the dogs for mom, taking the trash out, picking the kids up from school, just general security… I failed them, I’m supposed to be there…I’m just tired.”
His mother said that Ross was a “good boy with a very kind heart.” “Allen never gave me any problems,” she said. “He got along with everybody, and everybody knew him.”
Both mother and son cried when speaking of each other. Victoria Ross spoke of how likable her son was and how he loved the outdoors, suggesting that if he wasn’t doing something adventurous, he preferred to be indoors with the family. She said she remains extremely hopeful about the possibility of an appeal.
“I still keep my prayers strong,” she said. “I got my blessed candles lit for my son. Right there on top behind the fan. Every day I change my water…I light a candle every seven days and say a prayer.” She said she never stops hoping. “ I need something positive in my heart and mind, something that will keep me thinking that there is a chance for us to get through this,” she said.
Ross cried when recalling his childhood. “I’ve seen my mom struggle and I hated it,” he said. “I used to go to the bathroom and cry.” He said that thinking of her and his kids keeps him going. “She understands me,” he said. “It don’t get no better than her. She feels my pain. I feel her pain. I can’t replace my mother.”
He is just as emotional about his younger sister Jeanette Ross, 23. “That’s my baby, I raised her,” Ross said. “She used to want to follow me everywhere, and I always let her come.”
Jeanette Ross remembers a doting older brother. “Anything I wanted or cried for and my mother couldn’t get it for me, when he had his Key Food job, he would buy it for me,” she said. “He spoiled me a lot and he taught me all about dirt bikes and how to ride them.”
Sammy Ali, his former boss at Key Food in Canarsie, remembers that Ross “was a really good cashier. That’s the truth, I know his family…just great people…on time, always here, worked hard. Until he left, we didn’t have any problems with him. He was good guy.”
All that changed on a warm October afternoon four years ago. “I was forced in a situation where I had to act,” Allen Ross said, “but I didn’t want that at all.”
Even now, he thinks about Blackwood. “I plan to reach out to his mother at some point,” he said. “Maybe she can visit me and hear me out…some things are better spoken than written.” He said he prays for the Blackwood family every Oct. 4.
Ross said he submitted his appeal paperwork last month and is clinging to the hope of a second chance at life with his children.
If denied, he won’t be eligible for parole until 2042, at which point he’ll be 54 years old. “My life is over at that point,” he said.
But he’s trying to stay positive. “Everything happens for a reason,” he said.