More than a year after the fatal shooting of Kenneth Warren Jr., bullet holes still riddle the front wall of the Berkeley home where he was ambushed after he left his uncle’s barbershop to watch a basketball game at the home of a friend.
Warren was gunned down in a rain of bullets by unknown assailants who were believed to have been lying in wait for him to emerge from the Shattuck Avenue shop, just south of Emerson Street near Ashby Avenue. Witnesses said the father of five was shot while he knocked on a friend’s door, and that the killers unleashed more than 80 bullets during the murder. They started from a distance, then walked up to Warren’s collapsed body and discharged the last of the ammunition into him at close range.
The January 2012 murder of the 35-year-old family man remains unsolved, despite a $15,000 reward offered by the Berkeley Police Department for information leading to the arrest and conviction of his killer. Bay Area Crime Stoppers has offered an additional $2,000 in connection with the case.
This year, on the anniversary of his death, on Jan. 26, roughly 60 people came together at Shattuck and Emerson Street to remember him. Family members and childhood friends held hands, shared memories, lit candles and prayed, and one of Warren’s uncles sang several songs for those who had gathered.
Warren’s uncle, Don Warren, 62, said it’s been a hard year for the family.
“It’s been tough, ain’t no doubt about it,” he said. “For his mom, that’s a wound that will never go away. He was her main support.”
Warren’s father died at 37 of a brain aneurysm, and the young barber and aspiring longshoreman was close to his mom, speaking with her daily at least once, if not several times, said Don.
Don said his nephew’s mission in life was to take care of his children. He worked double shifts to support them. Warren, who lived in Hercules, had worked at Don’s barbershop, Don’s Headquarters, for seven years. He started out cutting hair while he was a kid at home, and Don later paid to put his nephew through barber school, supporting him during his apprenticeship and while he worked to get his license.
Said one former customer who posted last year on Berkeleyside after Warren’s shooting: “Cutting hair was like an art to him.”
Warren — who was known as Jr., Kenny, Ken, or, sometimes, Frog, according to his obituary — was, at the time of his death, about to become a member of the longshoreman’s union, after five or six years as a casual worker in the docks, said his uncle.
“He liked barbering, running his mouth,” said Don. “His longshoreman friends said he was quiet as a mouse but, when he got here, he was all noise, all mouth.” Warren grew up around the Bay Area in Richmond and Oakland, and attended Pinole Valley High School.
“He was embarking on a new era of his life,” said Jason, a close friend who asked to be identified only by his first name because Warren’s killer has not been arrested. “I just wish he was still here.”
Jason described Kenny as a good friend, and funny, quick-witted and charismatic.
“He could take a hostile situation and turn it into something joyful,” he said.
According to Warren’s obituary, he had a corny sense of humor and was remembered for telling jokes that “only he would laugh at.” He was known for taking pride in his clothing, a trait he inherited from his grandfather, and loved “dressing up and standing out.”
Kenny’s brother, Tommy Jr., 23, said recently that Warren always looked out for him and served as a role model, teaching him how to cut hair and “always trying to keep me on the right path.”
Kenny was always available to offer advice on life, or answer questions about hair or clothing.
“He’d tell you the truth,” said Tommy, who also asked that his last name not be used because the crime remains unsolved. “It might be a long answer, but it would be the strongest answer you heard.”
Kenny was known for his love of fishing in the San Francisco Bay, a penchant for working on cars and vans, and his passion for the Oakland Raiders. He was an avid sports fan. The night of his death, he left his job at the barbershop just before 7 p.m. to walk around the corner to a friend’s home to watch the Celtics-Magic game.
“I was standing right here when I heard the shots start ringing out,” said Don Warren, as he finished a customer’s haircut earlier this month. His shop fronts Shattuck Avenue, but has windows onto Emerson, which can be seen from his styling station. By the time his nephew left, however, it was dark outside and Warren said he couldn’t see into the street. “They were hanging over there in the darkness. They fired 80 rounds, and then they ran up on the porch. The last eight or nine rounds, they stood up over him.”
Friends of Warren, in the apartment where he had planned to watch the game, told Berkeleyside last year that they heard Warren knock on their door just before the shooting started. As their blinds and windows were blasted by the gunfire, with bullets ricocheting through the room, they crawled out through the back door to escape.
“I heard him knock on the door and say ‘It’s Ken,’ an occupant of the apartment where Warren was killed told Berkeleyside last year. She asked that her name not be used. “I went to answer the door, then hesitated. Then the bullets started flying and I heard him scream. There were so many bullets. They kept coming so fast. There were so many.”
Police said they tagged more than 80 bullet holes, from a semi-automatic weapon and a pistol, at the scene. Police released few details at the time of Warren’s death, but said they did not believe the incident was random.
Last week, police said they could not provide any insight into the possible motive behind the crime, as the investigation remains open and active. Friends and family members said Warren was not involved in drugs or gangs.
According to news reports last year, a friend of Warren’s — who was shot and killed five days after Warren — had posted on Facebook on Jan. 27, 2012, “Man, they killed my cuzin last night.” The friend also wrote that he’d heard Warren’s shooting was over a woman.
Berkeley police said last year, after rumors swirled about a possible connection between the two killings, that the shootings were unrelated and that, though the victims had been friends earlier in life, they’d been out of touch for years. (Police noted in a written statement that, “Whenever there are serious crimes, in particular homicides, there are many rumors, social media chatter and such, that develop.”)
Warren’s death is one of at least six Berkeley homicides to remain unsolved in recent years. No one has been arrested in the 2009 killing of 18-year-old Maurice Robertson; the deaths in 2010 of Kenneth Jerome Tims Jr. and Ignacio Celedón Bravo; the 2011 shooting of Toby Eagle; the 2012 shooting of Pam Mullins; and the shooting last week of 34-year-old Zontee Jones.
Police said Friday that the suspects in Warren’s killing were described only as two black males, one of whom was wearing “a heavy coat.” The shooters were last seen in an unknown, possibly Japanese, import vehicle. Witnesses to the shooting said they saw the assailants get into a dark sedan, possibly a Honda, and drive east on Emerson without their headlights on, but police would not confirm this.
Don Warren said it would be meaningful for the family and for his nephew’s memory if police do manage to make an arrest but that, ultimately, he takes comfort in another thought.
“I’d like to see them get their justice,” he said. “But even if they don’t arrest him, I know he will get his in the end. You can’t live on peacefully after something like that.”
Police ask anyone with information about the incident to call the department’s homicide detectives at 510-981-5741, or the department’s non-emergency number, 510-981-5900. Tipsters who wish to remain anonymous can call the Bay Area Crimes Stoppers at 800-222-TIPS (8477).
$17,000 reward for information about Warren murder [01.31.12]
Barrage of bullets killed man in Berkeley [01.27.12]
Breaking: Man shot and killed in south Berkeley [01.26.12]
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