Family members have identified the man who died Sunday in a shooting in West Berkeley as Anthony ‘Lil Tone’ Medearis Jr.
The 22-year-old lifelong Berkeley resident and father of three children, ages 1, 4 and 7, loved to dance, and was a compassionate family man and “social networker” who was very popular in the community, said two cousins who spoke with Berkeleyside on Monday.
But Medearis also faced difficulties. Relatives said he was raised by his great grandparents and had not found a steady job since leaving high school. There were also some indications from friends that he had ties to Berkeley’s Waterfront gang.
Family members described him as a “wonderful kid” who was “proud of where he was from,” and often wore Cal Berkeley clothing to represent his love for the city.
“He was a shining star, the life of the family,” said cousin Maria Stewart, who said the two grew up much more like siblings. “He was easy going, and always open to advancement.”
Stewart described Medearis as generous, even when he didn’t have much to give.
“He helped other people and, even if he only had 30 cents in his pocket, he’d say, ‘You can have this,’” she said.
During her pregnancy, Stewart recalled, Medearis was always ready to help, asking her how she was feeling and jumping in to watch her son while she ran errands or caught up on a shower or a meal.
“Family and kids were his world,” she said. ”We were tight, no matter where the blood line was coming from.”
Medearis was known in the West Berkeley neighborhood, around Camelia and Sixth streets, where he lived his entire life, for his stylish clothing and colorful hair. At times, he wore his hair in a “gold-top fade.” Other times it was dyed green or red. But he was humble, too, said Stewart.
Cousin Krystal Williams, who said Medearis was more like a son to her, said he “loved the little ones,” and would always play and roughhouse with his younger relatives: “Granny would always say, ‘Boy, sit down! You play too much.’ They were tearing up the whole house.”
Medearis also had a love for cooking and food.
“He would come into the kitchen and stick his fingers into your pies,” said Stewart. “He could barbecue his little tail off.”
She said the two of them would often cook for family events, and that Medearis had learned his way around the grill from watching other family members and hanging out in the kitchen.
The cousins said Medearis had hopes to play basketball and go to college, but hadn’t had a long-term job since high school. Friends said he attended Berkeley High, but neither woman was sure if Medearis graduated. He’d held a couple of summer jobs since then, but otherwise was focused more on finding other ways to make a living.
“You gotta survive,” said Williams. “Sometimes by any means necessary. And nobody’s perfect, nobody. From day to day, he tried. So many people are knocking the young men down, discouraging them. Where was the help?”
As they sat at the funeral parlor Monday while other relatives made arrangements for the service, the women shared memories, tearing up from time to time as they remembered Medearis. They said it was surreal to be there.
“It’s not him coming with us for somebody else. We coming for him,” said Stewart. She dropped her head, closed her eyes and went silent.
The night of the shooting
Williams said she was at the store with her daughter when her brother called and gave her news she’d hoped never to hear. ”He said, ‘You need to get to Highland. Tone just got shot.’ I dropped everything and I rushed out the door, saying ‘We gotta go,’ ‘we gotta go now.’ I did 100 all the way to Oakland.”
Medearis was shot Sunday evening near Eighth and Camelia streets, just blocks from where he grew up. He ran toward a neighbor’s house for assistance, but collapsed on the sidewalk calling for help. He’d been shot in the chest, said neighborhood residents. Some have said he and the shooter had known each other for years, had grown up together as part of the same neighborhood crew.
Officers have said one person was detained following the shooting, but Berkeley Police spokeswoman officer Jennifer Coats said she could not confirm it. Authorities have released few details about the shooting, citing the on-going investigation.
Williams said she got to the hospital before 7 p.m. More than 20 family members and friends anxiously waited for news. By 8 p.m., Medearis had been declared dead.
“I didn’t want to leave,” she said. She remembers thinking, “I can’t leave. Let me sit here. Let me breathe. It was close to 10 when I went home.”
A difficult few years
Medearis spent much of his youth in the home of his great grandparents alongside three boys who were Stewart’s brothers. Stewart said her grandfather was a strong role model, who kept the boys in line with his “militant style.” When he died in 2006, the young men were left somewhat adrift.
“It has been very hard for the boys in our family. There’s not a lot of guidance now, not a lot of strong men to lead them,” said Stewart. “And that leads them to the streets.”
One of the brothers Medearis grew up with was Calvester Stewart, who was charged last year in the March 2012 murder of Devin Lee Whitmire. Earlier this year, a judge determined that Stewart was mentally unfit to stand trial for that crime. He is scheduled for a second mental health review hearing Sept. 11.
There are some indications that Medearis was associated with the Waterfront crew, which has been described as one of the city’s most violent and notorious gangs. Gang members have been tied to murders, drive-by shootings and drug sales.
No information about how Medearis may have been involved with the group has been available from police — they haven’t even released his name — but multiple sources said Medearis was known to law enforcement.
(Update, Sept. 16: Two family members, including Medearis’ mother, Dolanda Moore-Medearis, contacted Berkeleyside after publication to contradict suggestions that Medearis was in a gang. Many people who live in the neighborhood where he died refer to the area as “the Waterfront,” and Twitter references to H2O refer to the area, not the gang, they said. Medearis’ mother also said her son was not raised by his great-grandparents, but by her in Alameda, along with Anthony Medearis’ sister, Shemeka. Growing up, Anthony Medearis was involved with sports and the Boys & Girls Club, said his mother.)
Numerous friends mourned Medearis’ death on Twitter: “Berkeley took another loss today. Niggas is dying left and right,” said one. Another wrote, “Tears just falling from my eyes thinking about tone.” That followed an earlier post: “R.I.P. to my cuzin Lil Tone. shit is sick. Miss his lil ass. Damn man why?”
Wrote another: “Berkeley be too little to be so hectic.”
One poster on Twitter identified Medearis as a “waterfront person,” and wrote: “We lost somebody else from the waterfront when is it gone stop?” Another called him “tone from the waterfront.” Medearis himself identified with the designation; his Myspace URL is Lil Tone Waterfront.
It’s not clear from the posts whether Medearis was a member of the gang, or just a resident of the neighborhood, but a post on Instagram (pictured above) includes references to the “WaterFrontFamily” and “H20,” which police have said in the past is a reference to the Waterfront gang.
Council member takes steps to improve safety
Medearis’ death was the fourth homicide this year in Berkeley. Two others have taken place nearby. On Aug. 1, 24-year-old Dustin Bynum was shot and killed outside Bing’s Liquors in the 1800 block of San Pablo Ave. On Feb. 4, Zontee Jones was shot on Delaware Street, across San Pablo Avenue less than a block away from Bing’s Liquors. Jevon Calland and Maurice Thomas Jr. have been charged with murder in that case.
On July 17, Jermaine Davis was shot and killed on Derby Street near Martin Luther King Jr. Way. No one has been arrested in that case. One community member said Medearis attended Davis’ funeral.
Councilwoman Linda Maio, in whose district three of the homicides took place, has held community meetings to bring residents together in their wake, and plans to hold another one Oct. 19 at 2 p.m. at the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church at 1823 Ninth St.
Maio sent an email to constituents Monday afternoon announcing plans to work with business owners around Delaware and San Pablo to install surveillance cameras at one property, and ensure code enforcement at Bing’s in hopes of increasing safety. She said she is continuing to pursue closure of a nearby “illegal marijuana dispensary” called 40 Acres.
She wrote: “Still am cogitating how we can deal with the ready availability of guns. What used to be resolved with a fist fight now takes a lethal and bold turn.”
Maio said, by phone Monday, she’s been hearing from many district residents who are concerned about the violence and want to find solutions.
“This is all new for this side of town,” she said. “We are just blindsided here. People are just frantic.”
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