Nicholas Heyward Sr. Stop a replica that the toy pistol his son, Nicholas Naquan Heyward Jr., was holding when shot. (Cydney Tucker)

Nicholas Heyward Sr., 58, remembers the night. It was a warmth Tuesday in 1994 and also the sun had actually yet to set. Neighborhood children trickled in and out that the Gowanus Houses, the Brooklyn housing project whereby he lived, answering their parents’ calls, while rather stayed exterior to gain the remainder the a beautiful fall day.

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Heyward’s 13-year-old son, Nicholas Naquan Heyward Jr., was one of those few. His friend had dubbed to the from exterior to beat a rapid game that cops and also robbers. After finishing his homework and also begging permission to walk out, the Nathan Hale middle School student was ready.

The game was easy and also uniformly divided: five cops and four robbers. One of the guys had acquired the toy firearms from the Atlantic Antic, an annual parade that takes place on among the surrounding streets to their homes. Throughout the evening, the guys laughed and also joked together they ran transparent the 423 Baltic Street projects, consisting of up on the building’s scenic rooftop—this was their playground.

On the floor below, a 23-year-old housing officer through the surname of Brian George reported because that a regime patrol.

By 3 a.m. The following morning, Heyward Jr. Would certainly be dead.

Over the last 22 years, new York City has actually seen 63 fake-weapon deaths. Last year, new York State test to execute something around the problem, passing a legislation requiring the retailers offering toy firearms make castle look more like toys. And in December, brand-new York’s attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, described a negotiation requiring fines of up to $30,000 for online retailers who market illegal toys. The settlement adheres to an examination revealing that 5,000 toy guns were offered within the state critical year—most of i m sorry resembled or to be replicas of deadly significant firearms, guns, pistols, and also rifles. The settlement currently prevents 30 major retailers, including significant chains such as Walmart, Amazon, Kmart, and also Sears indigenous selling guns that space not fluorescent, “brightly colored or have colored striping under the barrel.”

The measure might save lives—but the brings small comfort to Heyward, who believes the the illustration of his boy toy—a little Western-style popgun through a long orange tip—didn’t make any type of difference.

At about 7:30 p.m. Officer George cursed what would later on be deemed by Charles Hynes, the previous Brooklyn district Attorney, as a “tragic accident.” The young officer climbed the stairs of the real estate project accused in solution to a speak to of shots fired in among the two real estate towers.

With his finger ~ above the trigger of the .38 caliber company revolver that carried, Officer George cautiously climbed the stairwell. Simultaneously, Heyward Jr. And the 3 “robbers” energetically hopped their way down the steps with your old, 18-inch, brown and also black, western carbine-styled toy firearms in tow. Lock were ready to gain the “cops” and win the game.

Heyward Jr. Command the way. When he turn the edge he experienced Officer George. The two challenged each other, and also in that break-up second, every one make a life-altering decision. Heyward Jr. To reduce his toy gun, according to court testimony, together Officer George shoot his.

The last thing his girlfriend heard Heyward Jr. Utter was, “We’re just playing. We’re only playing,” but by the second sentence, Officer George had currently shot the honors student in the stomach.


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Following Nicholas’s death, Hynes explained the boy’s toy as “virtually indistinguishable from a real gun,” and also did not existing the situation to a cool jury, shocking Heyward’s friends and family. Heyward to be furious.

“He lied and also placed the reprimand on the toy gun. That had an entire table complete of realistic looking toy weapons to show civilization what Nicholas and the various other boys were play with—guns the same, similar thing those,” he said. “But that’s no what Nicholas was holding as soon as he was shot. The gun was obviously fake.”

While the police built up and save the initial toy as evidence, Heyward Sr. Stated he to buy an identical gun—at the very same Atlantic Antic festival wherein the original had actually been to buy a year later.

These days, he bring the toy v him come every total violence protest he attends come show civilization how his kid was killed. “Plastic toy weapons are not dangerous weapons, it’s the officers,” he said. “You’re informing me trained police don’t recognize the difference between a toy and also a real gun?”

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At the time of his boy shooting, Heyward Sr. To be picking increase his nephew from her institution in the Bronx. The didn’t recognize it yet, however Heyward Jr. Was lying unconscious in a 14th floor stairwell. “My pager to be ringing like crazy,” that said. “I didn’t know what to be going on.”

Moments after the fired his gun, Officer George paced the bordering hallway just external of the stairwell door, leaving a dice Heyward Jr. Alone v his 3 friends. Uncertain of what to do, the officer referred to as in the incident and also left in search for a regional resident. According to court testimony, that then brought an yonsei Hispanic mrs to the scene and also began to inquiry her.

“Do you know this kid?” he asked. “Can girlfriend go gain his parents?”

Heyward’s then-wife, Angela, rushed come the step minutes ~ eight—but she was also late. By the moment she arrived, as many as eight police officers were already blocking turn off the stairwell door, refusing she access. “She was ideal there and also she couldn’t even touch him,” stated Heyward Sr. “She to be there top top the 14th floor and also right behind the door was she son, bleeding out and also dying.”

Mrs. Heyward would be deprived that the opportunity to check out her kid twice an ext before his death—once top top the ambulance ride come the hospital and again during his surgical procedure at St. Vincent’s medical Hospital.


Shortly after your son’s death, the Heywards separated, leaving Heyward Sr. Looking for relief through community activism. “I assist parents who’ve shed their children,” the said, “like I’ve lost mine.” that is a full-time ar leader and activist for 2 non-profit organizations—Parents versus Police Brutality and the Nicholas Naquan Heyward Jr. Memorial Foundation. That balances his days between organizing and also speaking out around gun violence roughly the country. Once Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old young holding a pellet pistol was eliminated by a police officer in Cleveland in 2014, the eerily comparable case struck a chord because that him, 22 years after his son’s death. “I cry in former of the television when I heard that,” that said. “The fact that the officer wasn’t hosted accountable, and also that the was only a boy through a toy…it all simply reminded me that Nicholas.”

This year clues the father’s 23rd yearly day of remembrance for his son. Every November, Heyward Sr. Gathers alongside hundreds of ar members because that a day of basketball games, arts and also crafts activities, and also local musical performances in the Boerum Hill park throughout the street indigenous his real estate project. In 2001 the park to be renamed Nicholas Naquan Heyward Jr. Park after ~ his father’s press to respect his memory. In the days leading as much as his death, Heyward Jr. To be practicing everyday to make the basketball team at his school. He would certainly die before hearing the his acceptance.

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Every other day, Nicholas Heyward Sr. Takes a stroll v the park for a reminder the what can have been.