Never forgetting – Friends, family remember man murdered along bike trailRelatives of X'avier Arnold wait near a memorial for him. Arnold died on Dec. 26, 2013, killed during a robbery. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt
X’avier Arnold died one year ago on Dec. 26, shot to death during a robbery along a bike trail near the Pullman Yard.
Arnold’s girlfriend, Xenia, said it was a day much like Dec. 26, 2014, cool and bright. The day was winding down when Xenia was walking down the trail with Arnold and their mutual friend Ibrahim Sanusi. Police allege that Qutravius Palmer and Zion Wainwright tried to rob the trio, but Arnold, a U.S. Army reservist, fought back.
One of the suspects shot Arnold, fatally wounding him, and also shot Sanusi, who survived.
Arnold’s mother, Nichole Villafane, said she was headed home to make chili for Arnold – his favorite – when she got the news. Villafane was upbeat during a remembrance ceremony Friday, marking what she calls her son’s “transition” from this life to the next. She didn’t cry. She has already cried so much, she said.
“I asked myself how I was going to make it a whole year without my child,” she said, standing next to the memorial beside a chain link fence along the trail. “Here we are a year later. X’avier has been with me the whole time.”
Villafane said in the last year whenever she needed comfort, she’d look up and could always find a X somewhwere above her. There didn’t appear to be one on Friday as the pink clouds soaked up the setting sun. But after a moment of scanning, the mourners said they could see tiny X’s etched into the sky.
Roy Cochran, Arnold’s grandfather, held a sleeping child in his arms. His grandson was excited about attending the Savannah College of Art and Design. He always held a job.
“He was a good kid,” Cochran said. “He wouldn’t take nothing from anybody. He made his own way.”
In the months since the murder, the case against the two accused of murdering Arnold has suffered setbacks. Sanusi drowned in Lake Lanier over the summer. The detective in the case is gravely ill and the trial had to be postponed with no new date set.
For Arnold’s family, the idea that his alleged killers could escape justice is inconceivable.
“There’s no reason for this,” Cochran said. “There’s no reason. I want them to pay, though. I want them to pay big time.”
Villafane was also confident about the outcome of the case.
“It was a senseless crime,” she said.
Much of the past year has been spent finding some sense in the aftermath of that senselessness. Villafane and Arnold’s girlfriend have grown closer, spending hours talking on the phone, laughing, remembering. Kirkwood keeps the crime top of mind, and yards in the neighborhood still have a sign with a X, a reminder that there’s no forgetting what happened.
Arnold, who was 21 when he died, touched many lives, his mom said.
“I’m grateful for the 21 years,” Villafane said. “I would’ve rather had 21 years than not have him at all. I know I have an extra pair of eyes on me.”