City Desk

The Life And Death Of Derrell ‘Willow’ Goins

ANC Commissioner Bryan Weaver knew Derrell "Willow" Goins for years. On December 10, the 21-year-old Goins was shot and killed in Adams Morgan.

Goins was different than most of the kids Weaver tracks. "The thing that messed up every community activist in Adams Morgan is that he was off your radar. All of us internally make a list of kids who are immediately of concern and on the border....Derrell was beyond that. He was a kid that when he wanted community goods, when he came to [us], it was light, things that are goodness."

Goins received community money for art classes, and an after-school photography program. He craved a normal suburban teenager's existence. The job at the Hilton swimming pool. The time and resources to do his pen-and-ink sketches.

But pen and ink sketches aren't enough to escape the old Adams Morgan, the Adams Morgan in which the teenage rite of passage is joining the 1-7. Teenage boys divide themselves based on whether or not they're part of 1-7, affiliated loosely with 1-7 or ignore the 1-7 altogether. Goins wasn't part of the gang at all. He had no criminal history. Police didn't know him.

Still Goins, Weaver says, knew "all of the worst guys from 17th and Euclid." First cousins. Best Friends. His older brother. He was a "special kid" not just in the way he handled himself, but in the way he treated those guys. He didn't look down on them. "He never met anyone who was insignificant, who was beneath him, dirty and less than," Weaver says.

In an interview, one of Goins' good friends recalled:

"He's just like one of the smartest persons. He had a rough childhood after he lost his mother. There was only him and his brothers and sisters. He was a down-to-earth person. School came first. When he had his ups and downs, he still stayed in school. He was like that positive energy that walked in a room when nobody else had it.

It was always pressure [to join 1-7]. All his friends were there....I know it was plenty of times they were trying to convince him: 'Hey do what we do.'...He always thought about education first.

I'm angry by them just having drama in the neighborhood....I think it was mistaken identity. They must have thought it was his brother....It's a shame that it had to come like that. Why have drama inside a neighborhood when anybody can get hurt at anytime? I don't associate with them people anymore."

Goins graduated from Wilson. He had the full-time job at the Hilton. And he had his arty side. Weaver says Goins tried to keep the art stuff secret: "He didn't want a lot of people to know he had done that."

The pen and ink sketches, Weaver recalls, detailed Adams Morgan street life. He was killed in the alley between Champlain and Ontario.

Weaver says the scene at the yellow tape really disturbed him. "I was embarrassed by how everyone was acting," he says. "It defied logic. Here you had a 21-year-old kid who never had a police record. I was there 10 minutes after the shooting and everyone at the scene was like: 'I don't understand why I can't get to my car. Why can't I get into the alley way?"

Goins' legacy, Weaver says, remains an open question.

"It will be the war over Willow." Weaver says. "Will people recognize the joy of his life or will people succumb to the way that he died?"

Goins leaves behind a live-in girlfriend and an unborn daughter.

There is more to say about Goins. We will be updating the blog this weekend and earlier next week. We wrote a big story about 17th and Euclid several years ago.

Weaver has set up "The Willow Fund" to help pay for the education of Goins' unborn daughter. If you would like to contribute to "The Willow Fund" to please send your donation to P.O. Box 21009  Washington, DC 20009  — or take a check to the BB&T bank at the corner of 18th and Columbia.

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  • Grumpy

    Tragic story. Young man was an asset to his community and a great example of how to persevere in tough times. What a waste of a beautiful life...

  • ace

    I went to elementary school with Derrell, his death really hurt deep down inside, i had a dream that Derrell was walking down Columbia road in front of the Safeway, wearing dress shoes and looking sharp. he was walking peacefully and confident. when i woke up there was breaking news that Derrell's alleged killer had been caught and arrested. i cried, but i knew that the dream meant that Derrell had found some peace.

  • Maria

    How tragic and sad! Is there a higher purpose for such calamity! I will be happy to contribute for his unborn daugther. But what can be done to have the gangs integrated in the normal community and respect life?

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