By Carole Hawkins
Since the death of her only son, Corliss Davis has remade herself into a community activist. A board member for anti-crime and anti-violence groups. A participant in the crime watch for her Kansas City, Missouri, neighborhood.
It won’t bring back her son, Mark Davis, who was killed in a drive-by shooting July 26, 1992, just two days short of his 19th birthday.
It doesn’t prevent the depression that strikes at random moments, making it hard to get out of bed. Or stop the numbness that makes mistakes at work feel trivial. She’s lost two jobs and a marriage to emotional distress.
But she figures, perhaps she’d earn some peace if she could keep another mother from going through what she did.
Her daughter, Tia Harvey, has been a witness to the crusades.
“She’s buried herself in all of the community work. I feel like if she knew what happened, she’d be able to deal with this better,” Tia said.
There aren’t many clues, though.
Mark had been playing basketball with friends on the night of the shooting. After finishing, they went to a friend’s house at 4964 Virginia Ave. to hang out on the front porch.
A brown sedan with four black men drove up and down the street several times. The last time, the men in the car fired shots.
Mark was hit in the chest. One of his friends was struck in the foot.
Corliss said she was told at the hospital that when Mark fell to the ground, the bullet traveled to his heart.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Tia said. “One of his friends came to our house and said, ‘Mark’s been hit!’”
The family ran around the corner to the home. They found Mark lying in the living room and paramedics leaning over him, trying to save his life. Mark died at the hospital, Tia said.
The Kansas City police report says motives and suspects are unknown. But the homicide was tied to another crime.
Near the time of the shooting, a brown Chevrolet Celebrity was involved in a street robbery at 4261 Clark Ave., just a 10-minute drive away. That crime is also unsolved.
“Unfortunately, there’s not a lot to go on,” said Sgt. Ben Caldwell, who handles cold cases for the Kansas City Police Department. “You have virtually no physical evidence. And if the people who witnessed it aren’t willing to say what was going on … you’ve got very little chance of success.”
Mark was bright, quiet and sometimes silly—he liked to crack jokes.
“He had lots of friends,” Tia said. “He was always a very upbeat person.”
He was a good kid, his mother said, but as a youngster, he talked too much in class. Teachers worried he had ADHD. Corliss didn’t want medication, since Mark responded well to discipline.
As a young man, Mark played basketball often and dreamed of the NBA. He was short, Corliss said, so he wasn’t sure how that would go. He’d act out sometimes, but was never in any serious trouble. No drugs or gangs, no trouble with police.
Mark had a girlfriend and a young daughter. He didn’t know it, but his girlfriend was pregnant with their second child, a son, at the time of the shooting.
Corliss was a strict mom. When Mark dropped out of high school, she told her son he couldn’t live with her until he went back to school and back to church. He had moved into his girlfriend’s house. But he was at his mother’s the night of the shooting.
Things were going better. A month earlier he’d said he wanted to change his life. “I just want to get right,” he told his mother.
His stepfather took him to church to confess and Mark wanted to return to regular services.
He never got to. He would never see his son or watch his children grow up.
Corliss was in shock for five years following the shooting.
“I kept telling myself he was on vacation and coming back,” she said. “I knew it wasn’t true, but it helped me to cope.”
Holidays and birthays are hard. Anniversaries, Mother’s Day, birthdays of nieces and nephews—they lived and Mark didn’t.
When Corliss hears gunshots, she calls her daughter in the middle of the night to make sure her grandson, now a young black man, is OK.
There are no answers. Corliss fills the void with culprits.
She resents the police for being more focused on investigating the robbery, which happened in an upscale shopping district, than her son’s murder. Every time a young black man is unnecessarily killed by police or through senseless violence, she thinks of Mark.
She wonders what if she hadn’t kicked him out of her house. Could that have changed things? She realizes she’ll probably beat herself up over that for the rest of her life.
Mostly, she’s angry at whoever did this.
“They need to think about their own mother,” she said. “Like how would their mom feel if somebody just killed them for no reason? And, even if it was for a reason, how do you think your mother would feel?”
To help with the grief, Corliss spent 10 years fighting crime in her neighborhood. But crime got worse.
“That really broke my heart,” she said. “I know all the heartbreak I went through. Then I see another mother who has to go through all the same stuff.”
Instead of healing from her loss, she relived it. Corliss switched gears. Today, she mentors young women who face domestic violence.
“If I can help the young women get right, it can help the family,” she said.
It’s not enough. But until Mark’s shooter is found, it’s a way to replace a senseless wrong with something that’s right.
If you have any information on the unsolved murder of Mark Davis. Please call the Kansas City Police Department at (816) 234-5043. You can also call the Greater Kansas City Crime Stoppers hotline and remain anonymous at (816) 474 8477. You may be eligible for a reward if your tip leads to an arrest.
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