“We’re Broken”: Tuscaloosa Teen’s Family Mourns After Tuesday Killing
Xzorian Gray was a gentle, respectful child, according to his family, who said he was rarely found without a wide grin across his face. Friends and family always called him "X," and he was reportedly never the type to seek out trouble, but he also was known to stand his ground. Xzorian was only 16 years old when he was shot and killed in his vehicle late Tuesday night.
Captain Jack Kennedy, the commander of the Tuscaloosa Violent Crimes Unit, said that the shooting took place around 11 p.m. that night near the intersection of Fosters Ferry Road and 21st Street.
According to an eyewitness, when officers arrived on the scene, they found a female victim with gunshot wounds and Xzorian sitting in the driver's seat with a gunshot wound to the head. He was immediately taken to DCH Regional Medical Center but did not survive his injuries.
Days later, Xzorian's family is reeling from his loss and vowing that his death will be a step towards addressing the issue of violent crime in Black communities.
"This left us with a hole in our hearts," said Tre Lanier, Xzorian's great uncle. "We're broken right now, and we don't know the best way to process it."
Lanier remembered Xzorian growing up as most children did: a bit precocious, but nothing too troublesome. Tre said X's father was in and out of prison for most of his young life, often leaving his mother Shameka to care for their son alone.
Tre Lanier said that although Xzorian may sometimes felt abandoned by his father, the two extremely close during times when he was out of prison.
"There wasn't any distance or hate in that relationship. It's just that there wasn't enough proper time of him being there," Lanier said. "The problem with growing up on the West side of town is that if you're not there for your child's life day in and day out, you're gonna curse them with some problems with street life."
When Xzorian's family identified his body, Lanier said it was some of the worst pain he'd ever experienced. He remembered specifically X's mother's initial cry.
"You know that cry - that's a sound you'll never forget," Lanier said. "Like something came from deep inside of their soul."
Lanier said Xzorian had been involved with gun violence before -- he said around a year ago, X survived being shot during a disagreement.
On Tuesday night, Gray wouldn't be so fortunate. Lanier said an eyewitness told him that multiple people started shooting Gray's vehicle and he sped away. The shooters reportedly caught up to Xzorian at the intersection of Fosters Ferry Road and 21st Street, where he had stopped at a red light.
"X didn't have a gun on him or anything," Lanier said. "He stopped and just tried to talk again. I believe he was trying to de-escalate it."
At that point, the suspects allegedly fired into Gray's vehicle at point-blank range.
"It was a senseless murder," Lanier said.
Lanier reflected on Xzorian's life growing up, how he always had the drive to do the right thing but was struggling to find that sense of stability and direction. He said Xzorian always imagined he become a business owner of some sort.
"He was 150 pounds soaking wet, and he smiled too much to be intimidating," Lanier said. "But that doesn't negate the fact that he had problems... He wasn't a violent child by no means of imagination, but I don't think you could ever intimidate him to where he wouldn't stand up for himself."
Lanier said that he wants to take this tragedy and learn from it, and that the reason this kind of violence is so pervasive is because the root of the problem isn't being addressed.
"By the grace of God, he's the first person in our family that has ever been murdered," Lanier said, almost laughing. "That's a strange thought to have to have, but it's the truth."
"There's a certain amount of fear invested in just going outside. Nowadays, there's always a possible threat on your life and you feel the need to arm yourself," he continued. "You have to be associated with somebody, some gang, but that doesn't even protect you. It only puts you in that much more danger, but gives you a little bridge of safety."
He said that often the first experience kids get with one of these guns is in the heat of the moment, making any given altercation that much more dangerous.
He cited a "necessary bravado" kids growing up in these communities needed to have, to not be bullied or threatened, which can lead these young people into increasingly dangerous circles.
Lanier is an advocate for non-violence. He runs an organization called Men of Integrity designed to direct youths in Black communities towards options like entrepreneurship, recreational activities and other positive ways to engage the community.
Lanier spent 28 years in the prison system himself and knows firsthand that systemic change doesn't come from spending time in a cell, but rather from giving back to the community. He said that lost time like that is the most major thing hurting his mission.
"I've seen 88 murders and thousands of stabbings... We try to reach back out to the same streets we were on as kids, and try to save those guys from going down that same path," he said. "And it shouldn't be because of your address or because you have less that makes you want to do that. We've got to find a way to overcome.."
Spurred by Xzorian's death, Lanier said he hopes to find a way to honor all the local youth who have been lost to violence, keeping their names alive in the community and making sure their stories are told.
A funeral for Gray is planned for next Saturday.
At this time, the Violent Crimes Unit has not released any additional information about whether they've identified or apprehended any suspects in the case.
Even in the aftermath of such a powerful loss, Lanier said he remains committed to the cause of nonviolence.
"Don't think that we don't have a certain amount of anger, but to retaliate in any sort of way would defeat everything we're striving towards," Lanier said. "We lost a young man to gun violence, we lost someone very special and we'll miss him a lot."