Simmie Lewis Williams Jr.
Simmie Lewis Williams Jr., 17, was buried over the weekend wearing a handsome beige suit and white gloves. His mother, Denise King, had searched to find the right outfit. It would be the first and only time she would see a suit on her oldest boy.
Simmie, who was openly gay, was found fatally shot early Feb. 22 in a scrappy lot off Sistrunk Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale.
He was found dressed as a woman. He was buried dressed as a man.
”Simmie’s friends asked me if I was going to dress him as a woman for the funeral. I said no. I gave birth to a boy, and my baby would be buried as a boy,” says King, 38, her thin voice suddenly firm. “I don’t know . . . what he did or didn’t do across town. What I know is that he was gay and didn’t deserve to be gunned down because of who he was.”
Fort Lauderdale police spokesman Sgt. Frank Sousa said Wednesday that the case is not being classified as a hate crime, but that investigators have not ruled out Simmie’s sexual orientation as a factor. Police would not disclose any other details of the case.
In the days since Simmie died, a blurred, layered portrait has emerged.
Friends and family say all Simmie ever wanted to do was become a chef, own a fancy restaurant and move his family to California. He had stopped attending high school, with King’s blessing, but he planned to earn his GED. Some friends and a relative say he was troubled.
Patricia Ann Young, a close friend of Denise King and her children, cries after she viewed the body of Simmie Williams Jr. in the casket at the funeral home, on Wednesday. She said she saw Simmie grow up. Photo: Charles Trainor Jr
He was shot on a stretch of Sistrunk Boulevard that police say is known for transvestite prostitution. ”The victim was dressed as a woman,” according to a police statement. Because he was a minor, any juvenile records would be sealed.
Police say Simmie went by several nicknames, including Chris and Beyoncé. His mother says he loved the pop star’s songs, but that she had never heard him refer to himself as Beyoncé.
”Simmie had really long hair, and he had his eyebrows arched. But he didn’t wear fake nails or eyelashes, and I never saw him dressed as a woman,” says King, who works at a nursing home. “I have tried not to think about all this.”
The investigation into Simmie’s death has produced few leads. Broward Crime Stoppers has received only two tips, a small number for a homicide. Neither tip panned out.
Here’s what is known: Simmie spent most of his last day at home, in an apartment complex off U.S. 441 just west of Fort Lauderdale. He was baby-sitting his year-old nephew Jamar and waiting for a cable repair technician. As on most days, Simmie prepared supper for his mother: steak, mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables.
”Simmie loved to cook. He would watch the Food Network, then experiment,” King says. “The cable person never showed up. If they had come and fixed the [cable], he would have never went out because he wanted to see Make Me a Supermodel.”
King gave her son $2 to go across town to meet friends. Hours later, he got into an argument with two males wearing dark clothing, police said. Witnesses heard gunshots, and the men ran away.
The possible link between Simmie’s sexual orientation and shooting death, coupled with an attack two days later on Melbourne Brunner at a popular Las Olas Boulevard restaurant after he had breakfast with his partner, has incited strong reaction from gay-advocacy groups.
”Simmie has become the most recent face . . . of someone hurt or killed because of who they are,” says Brian Winfield, a spokesman for Equality Florida. “People are feeling absolute anger that another young life was taken.”
The gay community raised money to help pay for Simmie’s funeral, held a town hall meeting that addressed gay bashing and renewed efforts to get a school-bullying law passed in the state Legislature — with amendments specifying protection for sexual orientation, identity and expression. Proposals in the House and Senate would prohibit bullying and harassment of any student or employee of a public K-12 educational institution.
”We are looking for a uniform statewide policy that holds the schools accountable on the issues of bullying and violence,” Winfield says. “It is hell in school for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students. So many feel alone and or are the target of violence.”
More than 100 mourners gathered last week for a vigil at the spot where Simmie was shot, in front of a chain-link fence where friends, family and strangers built a memorial: purple votive candles, stuffed teddy bears, flags and posters that, before they blew away, told people to Unite and Stand and Fight.
During the hourlong event, King stood silently, a picture of Simmie as a teenager in one hand, a bouquet of flowers in the other.
A single tear rolled down her cheek. She never reached to brush it away.
Beyond all the politics, the violence, the speeches and the good intentions, Simmie’s story is about a mother losing a son.
King wears two rubber bracelets that read, ”Erase hate” and “Forever In My Heart.”
”All I do is cry these days. I try to stay busy, but I keep looking at the door as if he is going to come in,” King says, sitting outside her apartment in an old dining room chair, two days after the funeral. “But the door never opens.”
Simmie Lewis Williams Jr. was born Nov. 25, 1990, three days after Thanksgiving.
”I remember going to the Flagler dog track that day. I was already in labor,” King says, smiling for the first time. “He was my first boy and my hardest labor. I musta been in labor 10 or 11 hours.”
Simmie arrived at about 7 a.m., just as the nurses’ shift changed.
”He was always quiet. A good baby who would kinda keep to himself, and he smiled a lot, the same way he was before he died,” says Rosemae Barnes, Simmie’s aunt. “He was a loving boy.”
Williams’ father was released from prison about a month ago after serving nine years for attempted murder and other crimes.
Several years ago, Simmie told his mother he was gay.
”Of course a mother always knows. And he was very sure of his sexuality,” King says. “I just told him that he was my son, that I would never turn my back on him and that I loved him. Because I did. I do.”
Their close relationship grew into something else: friendship. King says Simmie confided he was being teased at school, that he was tired of being bullied.
She says she pulled him out of Hollywood Hills High School as a sophomore in 2006. Broward schools spokesman Keith Bromery declined to comment.
In recent months, Simmie had told his mother that he wanted to become a chef. On Feb. 21, King signed Simmie up for the Job Corps.
”He was so happy because he was going to finally be able to work toward becoming a cook,” King says.
The next day, he was dead. Simmie was buried in a soft-blue casket crowned with an arrangement of white carnations, ferns, baby’s breath and ribbons.
Several friends came to pay respects. A few came forward and talked of his struggles but also of his not wanting to burden others.
They talked about a quiet boy with a beautiful spirit who was trying to find his way. The eulogy, powerful and brief, was about being different, about tolerance and casting stones. About fighting back to save a neighborhood.
”There’s been a lot of things said about Simmie. He was a good person. If you were hungry, he would feed you. If you were sad, he would minister to you. If he were sad, he would not want to burden you,” says Henry Thomas, a friend. `He gave everybody a chance.”
Miami Herald staff writer Adam Beasley contributed to this report.