At one graduation ceremony in Philadelphia on Thursday, there will be a diploma, but no student to receive it.
Instead, a heartbroken father will be handed the award that represents the aspirations of his son’s short life.
Gregory Burnside III died outside his Southwest Philly homein a hail of gunfire around 2 p.m. on Jan. 7 – the day before his 19th birthday.
Six months later, the murder remains unsolved.
Burnside had just left home, and wasonGlenmore Avenue walking to thecorner storeto geta sandwich when it happened,said his father, Gregory Burnside.
“He said, ‘Dad, we’re gonna turn it up. I’m gonna be 19 tomorrow.’He ran out the house,”Burnside recalled inside his home on Gray Avenue near 61st Street. “It wasn’t even five minutesand I heard the gunshots. I just froze. Something inside me said,’That is your son.That’s your son out there.’ All I could do was just pray.”
Burnside left behind two young daughters, who were both just months old when he died. He had just finished course-work at Performance Learning Center in Southwest Philly for his diploma, and had applied to join the U.S. Marines — his lifelong ambition.
“He was a good kid. He made it. Me and him struggled to get to this point. … Everything I didn’t have, I made sure he had it.”
Burnside Sr. movedhis sons, GregoryBurnside Jr. and Burnside III, into their Grays Ferryhome onJanuary1, 2000 to get out of a rat-infested home in West Philly, he said.
He recalled his youngerson lovingbasketball and football as hegrewup attending Thomas G. Morton Elementary andBartram High School, describing him as “humble, open-minded, and teachable.”
Burnside Sr. said his son had no involvement inillegal activity.He got into trouble for fighting at one point, but worked hard to returnto school and get his diploma,Burnside Sr. said.
“That was a great kid. He was just doing everything that he was supposed to do.”
But in their neighborhood, violence is all too common.
On the New Years Day before the murder,Burnside’s cousin Gilbert Burnside, 24 had beenshot multiple times, losingsight in one eye and requiring five plates and six screws in his right arm, he said.
“I was about to get surgery on my eye, he called and said he was coming to visit me at the hospital,” Gilbertsaid. “An hour later, I got the call. He had been shot.”
“He was a kid. Took care of his family. He wasn’t a killer or nothing like that. You didn’t have to shoot him.”
Burnside Sr. said he feels like his son’s murder has been ignored by media and authorities.
“I still haven’t even talked to police … Nobody ever interviewed me,” Burnside Sr. said.”I’ve never been prejudiced against nothing. This is the first time I feel prejudice, and it’s against my own city. I love this city. … but it was a real let-down. It was like, ‘Is this what happens?'”
Police say Burnside’s murder, which was sparked by an unspecified altercation,is still under investigation, but they have no leads and need the public’s assistance. Tipsters could get a $20,000 reward for information leading to the killer’s arrest.
“Our homicide detectives never stop working a case,” Officer Tanya Little said.
Burnside Sr. doesn’t know who the triggerman is, but he believe it’s a local drug dealer.
“The guys who did it are back at the corner selling drugs,” he said.
For Burnside Sr., 54, a retired security guard, the trauma of his son’s death has been agony. He copes with it by relying on his faith and listening to the sermons of bishopT.D. Jakes.
But the memory of the murder haunts him. He doesn’t even know why it happened, except for what may have been perceived disrespect.
“They emptied a whole clip on him like he was a stone cold criminal. He’s running. He doesn’t want to be shot. That didn’t help him. They shot him in the back,” Burnside described, his face contorted in pain.
“You know when you weather a storm? And you get through it. And then, you just become powerless.”