In February 2016, James Walke III spotted a man lying on the ground down the street from the house he shared with his family in Germantown.
He urged his mother, Yullio Robbins, and his stepfather to call 9-1-1 and to come with him to see what they could do to help.
Robbins told her son, “‘No, James, don’t go down there. He could be crazy. He could be faking.’”
“My son said to me — Oh my God, I’ll never forget it — ‘Mom, don’t ever say that. That could be me one day lying in the street. Do you want people to walk by me?’”
Three of them waited with the man, who was unconscious, until the ambulance arrived.
“James was not the type of person who was going to leave someone just lying there,” Robbins said. “Let me tell you, he had a heart as big as the moon. As big as the world.”
That turned out to be a tragic foreshadowing of what was to come.
Three weeks later, on Feb. 23, 2016, James told Robbins he was going to meet a friend at Wayne and Seymour streets in Germantown. He gave her a kiss and a big hug and they exchanged I love yous. It was about 2 p.m.
Not long after that, Robbins received a call from a friend. She said she heard gunshots and looked outside. James had been shot and was lying on his back, bleeding.
James died about a half hour later at Temple University Hospital. He was 28.
“My whole world just shattered,” Robbins said. “I just sunk down. The waiting room was full — his children were there, all my children were there and more family members. We just couldn’t believe it. Who would want to kill him? He was so big and lovable. Somebody wanted him out of the way for some reason.”
According to media reports, the friend James was supposed to meet didn’t show. He was walking down West Seymour Street with his earphones in and his head down. Apparently someone was waiting for him.
Surveillance video showed a man approach James and shoot him 12 times. The suspect was dressed in all black with a hood obscuring his face. No arrests have been made.
After James’ death, Robbins connected with other parents who have also lost children to violence and whose homicides are still unsolved. Together they’ve organized marches, participated in rallies, spoken to the media and done whatever possible to keep their children’s cases in the public eye. She’s also in regular contact with the homicide detective who is handling the case.
“I just want justice for my son,” she said. “I’m going to always continue to fight for him with my voice. And I’m not selfish — I’m going to fight for all victims of gun violence. I go to every rally, every meeting about gun violence, anything to represent my James.”
James was born July 23, 1987. He was Robbins’ first son; he had three older sisters and one younger brother. James was big and healthy and handsome with a beautiful smile, his mother said.
He was also her happiest child.
“He just loved life,” she said. “He loved people.”
James was a handyman and he worked with his stepfather doing janitorial jobs. He could fix anything and he loved the work, Robbins said.
He also loved to cook, and his specialty was pancakes. He particularly enjoyed making them for his sons, who are 9 and 10 years old.
“My grandson was here the other night and he said, ‘Mommom, remember my dad cooked pancakes?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I remember those pancakes. They were the best.’”
He liked to eat, too, and his favorite was Robbins’ fried chicken.
James’ aunt, Delores Walker of West Oak Lane, also fondly remembers his appetite.
“He could eat,” she said with a chuckle. “One Thanksgiving I think that boy ate four Thanksgiving dinners, and I mean humongous plates.”
Walker saw James at least once a week. He’d call her if he was hanging out with his friends nearby and ask if he could crash on her couch.
“When he used to wake me up at night and tell me he was coming over, I used to tell him I’m going to kick his you-know-what for waking me up,” Walker said. “And then he’d come in and give me a hug and it was all forgotten. I miss all of that. I miss it.”
Walker last spoke to James a week or so before he died. Before they hung up, he said, “Take care of my mother,” Walker recalled.
“I said, ‘What are you talking about? Well, that goes without saying.’ A week or so later, my sister called me screaming about how James got shot. Folks say they feel death, so I’m thinking that he felt death coming.”
Robbins said she hopes someone with information about her son’s homicide will see her pain and decide to do the right thing by calling police. Tips can be anonymous.
“It’s like you’re numb, like your whole insides are gone,” Robbins said. “I’m alive and walking, but there’s a numbness in me knowing that a child I gave birth to was taken away from me through murder.”
“This is why I keep his name alive. I keep him alive,” she added. “I know he would be so very proud of me for fighting for him and for all the victims of gun violence. It’s just senseless murder. Senseless.”
The City of Philadelphia is offering up to $20,000 as a reward for anyone that comes forward with information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for James’ murder.
Anonymous calls can be submitted by calling the Citizens Crime Commission at 215-546-TIPS.