When a Witness Recants
by Jennifer Gonnerman
Published October 25 in the New Yorker
Excerpt: For nearly four decades, Ron Bishop has had nightmares about an afternoon from his youth. It was November 18, 1983, and he was in science class with his friend DeWitt Duckett, at Harlem Park Junior High School, in West Baltimore. When the bell rang, the boys, both fourteen and in ninth grade, left class with another friend. They headed to the cafeteria for lunch, and, to avoid the crowds of students, they took a shortcut down a deserted corridor. As they passed rows of metal lockers, Bishop joked about Duckett’s antics back when they were in first grade. “We were laughing,” Bishop recalled. “And within seconds I turned, and someone had a gun in my face. And then the gun went from being in my face to the back of DeWitt’s neck.”
The assailant—an older teen-ager in a gray hoodie—reached for Duckett’s collar. “Give me your jacket!” he demanded.
Duckett wore a navy-blue satin Starter jacket with “Georgetown” emblazoned across the front. At the time, Georgetown’s basketball team was dominant, and the jackets were extremely popular, selling for sixty-five dollars apiece. Duckett was among the first students in their school to get one. His mother later told a reporter that he had bought it with money he’d saved from his summer job as a stock clerk.
Now, with a gun pointed at him, Duckett tried to take off the jacket. Bishop caught the eye of his other friend, and they ran to the end of the corridor. The sound of a gunshot echoed behind them. They kept running, down a flight of stairs and into the cafeteria, searching for help. Bishop remembers calling out, “Someone shot DeWitt!”
Duckett soon appeared, without his jacket, pressing one hand against his neck. Bishop later recounted, “I saw my friend stumbling into the cafeteria and collapsing in the principal’s arms—and that was the last time I saw him alive.” Duckett left school in the back of an ambulance, and he died that afternoon.