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A Most American Way to Die

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Though his mother will never admit it, the facts are the facts: Jordan Davis died a mama's boy. He loved Lucia McBath like only a single child can – as her proud, fiercely possessive young man. Every boy in the neighborhood loved her too. They came over all the time to the house where Jordan was raised on a quiet cul-de-sac in suburban Atlanta, five or six kids following him home from class to eat McBath out of hearth and home. These were church kids who'd met at Christian school and climbed the rungs together as a pack. Choir, scouts, religious retreats: They were good sons surrounded by other good sons, that mannerly quotient of the black middle class that never gets attention in the press.

"We taught him to understand that his actions ripple outward, that they affect other people, so be accountable," says McBath, still lovely at 52, the shadows in her eyes notwithstanding. As a flight attendant and a senior recruiter for Delta Airlines – where she's been for three decades and where she met Ron Davis, her husband-to-be and future father of her only child, aboard a flight she was working as an attendant – McBath raised Jordan largely alone from the time he was three years old. Ron, who was also a Delta lifer (he retired as a purser in 2006, after 32 years of service), was a doting single dad who took Jordan every other weekend so McBath could double-shift and stay home weekdays. It was a workable arrangement till Ron remarried and moved 350 miles south to Jacksonville in 2002, though Jordan got used to catching the one-hour flight to see his dad on alternate weekends. Jordan was "an easy kid," says Ron, gym-built and busy in retirement; he looks a decade younger than his 60 years. "Even here, knowing no one, he made tons of friends fast. I got used to cooking waffles for three or four kids, with all the sleepovers he had."

That Jordan was easy – or for that matter, anything – bordered on the near-miraculous. McBath was riddled with uterine fibroids that made bringing a fetus to term almost impossible. She'd miscarried twice and delivered a stillborn son by the age of 34; then she got pregnant with Jordan. Her surgeon put her on ironclad bed rest for eight months till her due date, staged a radical procedure to partition the fetus from the huge tumor trying to squash it – and still she almost died in labor. For a week after his birth, she lay at death's door with a rabid case of septicemia, half-conscious, bloated on antibiotics and bearing the kind of pain they couldn't numb. "She was moaning all the time, couldn't hardly speak – they sent for the chaplain a couple times," says Ron. When she somehow came through it, though, there was Jordan: the happy, healthy boy she'd suffered to meet.

From her first day home with him, they were inseparable. Except for her work shifts and six-mile runs, McBath took Jordan and his teeming pack of friends everywhere she went. "I was the roller-rink mom, the petting-zoo mom; it was sort of like I had six sons," she recalls. When Jordan was nine, she even pulled him from grade school to teach him herself for five years. "He had a curious mind, reading way above grade level and always asking tons of good questions. I saw him as a leader and wanted to support that with things they weren't doing in class." Delighted to have McBath all to himself, Jordan made her promise that she wouldn't remarry till he left for college or the Marines. But in 2008, she married Curtis McBath, a Delta flight attendant, just as Jordan was hitting puberty and, soon after that, public high school. "His head was spinning from all the changes," she says. "Rebellious, acting out, wouldn't get of his cellphone – and then I got breast cancer." After two lumpectomies, she faced chemo and radiation and one very hard fact of life: It was time for Jordan to live with his dad for a while.

The move wasn't easy on anyone. Jordan, who'd fit in seamlessly at posh Marietta High, found himself suddenly in the peeling hallways of Samuel W. Wolfson High in southside Jacksonville. The hard boys stepped to him in the yard; he was mugged for his phone after school. He sulked through most of a year, flunked a statewide test and was dumped in remedial reading, of all places. His father didn't put up with it for a minute. "He'd be up late talking to girls, so I took away his cellphone, then his TV and Xbox, too. Then I took the door off his room. He'd say, 'But those are my things,' and I'd say, 'No, they're mine; the power they use, that's mine, too.'" Ron enrolled him in virtual after-school, making him work with an online tutor and standing over his shoulder till he'd finished.

By the start of his junior year, the message kicked in; Jordan's mood and grades picked up sharply. He made a pack of friends, aced the statewide tests and became the de facto mayor of the school. "Anything he wore, people would copy; he put a part in his hair, they copied that, too," says Aliyah Harris, his ex-girlfriend, 18, who's been accepted to Clark Atlanta and Florida Atlantic universities. She had as much to do with raising his game as any of the adults in his life. "I told him to get a job – I've got three of 'em myself – and start getting your head right for college. Second, pull your pants up; you're no type of gangsta, even if you listen to Rick Ross." They were Wolfson's power couple, though chaste in the way that church kids are, never finding alone time for sex. "Whether it was me or my wife, someone was always here when Aliyah drove him home from school," says Ron. "We love that girl, but we weren't having surprises. Her father felt the same way."

Aliyah's was one of the last faces Jordan saw before he got back in the car the night he died. "He didn't say much, with his friends standing there, but I knew we were cool again," she says. "He'd matured so much in such a short time – gotten a job and was talking serious about joining the service after school. I went to bed happy that night. Then I woke up, and there's all these texts on my phone. That's when I called my girlfriend and found out."

Jordan died moments after he got to the hospital, where doctors tried mightily to revive him. Ron, who'd gotten a distress call from Leland's mother, wailed as he raced to the ER. They kept him waiting for more than an hour in the visiting room, because Jordan's wallet and ID had fallen out in the parking lot and no one could be sure whose son he was. At length, they let Ron in to sob over the body – and later call McBath with the worst of all news. Or so it seemed to him, until the news got worse. At the precinct later that night, he met up with the other boys, who told him, as best they could through their sobs, what had happened, and why. "No!" he cried. "My son's dead because his music was too loud?"

Since December, there'd been little from Dunn's camp save the news that he'd hired a new lawyer. There'd been no race to claim him by Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity, both of whom had leapt to the defense of George Zimmerman after he shot Trayvon Martin, and no rallies or mailings by gun-advocacy groups to raise a legal fund for Dunn. He was jettisoned, in fact, by his girlfriend: Rhonda Rouer gave a statement undercutting his claim that he saw a gun.

It was something of a surprise, then, that he appealed for bond and was granted a hearing in the middle of March. Dunn showed up to the Duval County Courthouse hearing wearing a mismatched suit and a smirk. He glared at Jordan's father, who glared right back and nearly had to be restrained by the bailiffs. "I wanted him to look me in the eye," says Davis. "But there's no remorse or decency in that man."

Dunn's witnesses, including his parents and several elderly whites who'd known him since his boyhood, testified that Dunn was a loving son and that nothing in his life till that night marked him as a hothead killer. But the state has multiple witnesses up its sleeve who cast doubt upon that claim. One described Rouer watching in horror as Dunn pumped round after round into the Durango. "Oh, my God! What did you do?" she shrieked as she ran from the store, leaving the wine and chips on the counter. "Get the fuck in the car!" he growled at her before peeling out of the station, according to a man filling his gas tank. There were witnesses confirming what he told Jordan before he fired ("You can't talk to me that way!"), and others describing how he'd opened his door for a better shooting angle at the Durango. As an audition for his defense case, it was a thudding flop. Dunn was denied bail a week later.

But to be fair to his new lawyer, Cory Strolla, how do you defend someone as volatile as Dunn, who by the evidence that exists appears to be a trigger finger waiting to be pulled? According to an investigation by Jacksonville police, reports that were obtained by Rolling Stone, a former neighbor claimed that Dunn once tried to hire him to kill a man who'd sued Dunn's software firm; he also claimed that Dunn had held a gun to the head of one of his two ex-wives, and controlled the other wife, a foreign national, with threats of deportation. According to John Phillips, a prominent Jacksonville lawyer who's representing the interests of Jordan's parents, Dunn's Facebook page, which was hastily taken down, was seething with hate for "media" and Democrats, and contained links to pages like "Fuck the Government!" that rhapsodized armed resistance. In lieu of family photos or snapshots with friends, it showed "what an angry loner he is," says Phillips. Dunn seems to have had few interests besides guns and flying; his father had given him an old single-engine airplane, which he flew whenever it wasn't being fixed.

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