Damion Lee put four fingers together and held them up to his cheek to indicate how tall his younger brother was.
“He was like 5-10, wore size 13 shoes,” said Lee, 16, as he stood on the lawn in front of his family’s small brick duplex on the edge of Tryon Street southwest of uptown. “He was goofy, tall and funny.”
His 11-year-old brother, Randez Brown, drowned Thursday evening while trying to rescue their sister from a pond near Interstate 77, less than half a mile from their house in the Southside Homes neighborhood. Shamiyah Brown, 7, was in critical condition Friday afternoon in the CMC Intensive Care Unit.
Family members said Randez and Shamiyah were under the care of their great-grandmother Dolly Knox, 81, when they slipped away from the house Thursday, joined a group of children that cut through fields at nearby Marie G. Davis Military and Leadership Academy, and walked down a hill to Davis Creek.
Neighbors believe the victims were in a cement-lined culvert that empties into the pond when the girl slipped and was swept by rushing water into the pond, which varies from ankle-deep to more than 6 feet, fire officials said. Her brother jumped in to try to rescue her, they said.
Merry Black, the children’s great-aunt, said Shamiyah knew how to swim but Randez did not.
“That’s a dangerous spot, that’s a dangerous spot,” she said Friday while sitting in the passenger seat of a car parked in front of the house. “This is a tragedy for everybody. Such sweet kids.”
Black and Damion Lee both said they weren’t aware of Randez or Shamiyah ever playing by the creek before. But Black – who grew up in Southside – said she used to sneak down to play there when she was a young child, and was friends with a boy who drowned in the same area 30 years ago.
Delrico “Rico” Fisher, 7, died in that pond in August 1984. The rising third-grader at Sedgefield Elementary School had been swimming with his brother and a friend, after climbing over a fence and walking under I-77 to reach the pond.
Randez Brown was a fifth-grader at Sedgefield, and had plans to celebrate his 12th birthday on Monday with a trip to a Charlotte Bobcats game. He lived with Shamiyah, Damion, three other brothers, his mother Shaconda Black, and his great-grandmother in the three-bedroom home.
Merry Black said Dolly Knox was hospitalized briefly on Thursday night after collapsing upon hearing the news about her two great-grandchildren. Knox was home Friday, while Shaconda Black sat by Shamira’s side at the hospital.
“I was telling her, ‘You can’t blame yourself,’ ” Merry Black said, “ ‘you can’t get sick because right now you’ve got other grandkids that love you, that need you.’ ”
Meanwhile, some neighbors said unsupervised children in Southside is a widespread problem.
“You see a whole lot of little kids,” said a five-year resident who has a young child of his own and asked not to be identified. “I’m talking about real little kids running up and down the street.”
And the creek is definitely cause for concern, said Breanna Caldwell, who lives nearby and knows the victims.
“I’ve been down there,” she said. “The water is sometimes rushing really fast out of the pipe. It’s muddy and easy to get stuck, especially if you go too far.”
A Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools safety official walked the fence separating the athletic field from woods that lead to the creek Friday morning, snapping photos. Parts of the fence were clearly in disrepair. Later in the morning, Southside Homes residents set up an impromptu memorial by the track.
And a steady flow of mourners visited the family’s house on Friday, including a group led by Lauren Stines, director of youth missions and outreach at Myers Park United Methodist Church.
Stines has known Randez’s family for four years through a mentoring program involving Freedom School Partners and Sedgefield Elementary. The family also worshiped at Myers Park United Methodist every Sunday.
“He really was a caregiver,” Stines said of Randez. “He was constantly watching out for everyone, and not just people in his family but the surrounding kids in our program, making sure they were where they were supposed to be. ... It doesn’t surprise me with what happened that he was trying to take care of his sister. That’s true Randez.”