Saheed Gayle was at work at the Monroeville Mall on Oct. 7 when he was shot and killed.
The 20-year-old had last spoken to his mother, Theresa Kallon of Laurel, Md., on the phone the evening before he died. He had called her to get ideas for what to buy her for her 40th birthday. But not before joking about buying her some sneakers – a fashion he knew she wasn’t keen on.
“He was a jokester,” Kallon said of her son. “He was cleaning someone’s name-brand shoes. He sent me a picture of them and said, ‘This is what I’m getting you for your birthday.’ ”
Gayle worked as a salesperson for a shoe cleaning kiosk in the mall.
They exchanged some jocular texts before talking on the phone, when he promised to buy her something that more aligned with her taste. She didn’t know that he had planned to travel back home that weekend to participate in the family’s planned surprise birthday party for her.
In her search for answers that came later that week, she said a co-worker told her that Gayle was seen arguing with someone in the food court. When he came back, a man and a woman followed him to the kiosk, where some words were exchanged.
“The (co-worker) told me that Saheed followed them outside. She had never seen them before. But she said he calmly got up and told her he would be right back,” she said.
Gayle was shot and killed in a parking lot just outside an entrance to the Monroeville Mall. Police said it appeared that Gayle, a woman and a man whom police identified as Lawrence Mark Murphy had gotten into a verbal argument. It was about 1:30 p.m when shots rang out and the family, friends and detectives have been searching for answers since.
Murphy has been charged with criminal homicide and weapons violations. He remains at large; an arrest warrant was issued Oct. 12.
Kallon said her son had lived in Pittsburgh since 2018, after graduating from Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Md., a city located about 30 minutes northeast of Washington, D.C. He enrolled in the Art Institute of Washington and decided to go to the school’s location in Pittsburgh.
“He was ready to be independent,” Kallon said, adding he looked at the school’s sites across the country before landing on a mutually agreeable location – still relatively close to home.
When he moved to the Pittsburgh area, he got a job at Ross Park Mall working at a shoe cleaning kiosk. That’s where he met Nell Younger, 21, of Pittsburgh. The two quickly became friends, she said. Younger helped him move into an apartment. They were supposed to hang out the night before he died, but she couldn’t make it.
The next afternoon, Younger felt something in the pit of her stomach when she heard the news about a shooting at Monroeville Mall. She called Gayle’s phone – no answer.
“This happened to the wrong person,” Younger said, describing Gayle as someone who didn’t even know where or how to buy a gun. “They killed him for no reason. Whatever happened, he would never retaliate. He can’t, he’s not like that.”
Younger said Gayle had a work ethic that stood out among his peers.
“I loved being his friend. He helped me stay focused. And he didn’t get into nothing, no smoking, didn’t drink. All those normal things a 20-year-old would do, he didn’t. I admired him. He was militant. Disciplined – very disciplined,” she said.
When the Art Institute of Pittsburgh closed in December 2018, he transferred some of his credits to the Community College of Allegheny County and enrolled in its film production and business administration programs, Kallon said.
It was around that time that his twin brother, Samai, moved to Pittsburgh after living in Florida for a time. Samai also enrolled in CCAC and the two rented an apartment together.
The brothers planned to return to Maryland when their apartment’s lease expired in December. Once back home, Gayle intended on finishing school at another community college. Kallon said the family wanted to be closer together with the uncertainty surrounding covid-19.
Gayle had gotten the job at the Monroeville Mall to save money for the move, his mom said. She said he called her often. During many of those conversations, he would discuss the opportunity to become a distributor of the shoe cleaning business.
Diamond Jackson, 21, of Pittsburgh was another friend of Gayle’s. She said she had hung out with him recently and liked being around him. They used to go to the Art Institute together before it closed, and they would catch the bus in the mornings to head to school.
“He would listen to music a lot. And he would dance at the bus stop,” she said, chuckling at the memory. At school, the two shared a math class. She said he was good at it, so she would often copy his work.
“He was just cool, chill and friendly. I want people to remember him as a nice person,” Jackson said.
Through her grief, Kallon said she has asked God why and expressed anger. As a young mother, she said, she did everything to protect her sons from “bad neighborhoods,” and was willing to work extra jobs to keep them from the dangers of the streets.
But when he moved away, another woman’s child took hers away. So she was angry.
“But God touched my heart,” she said. “Who am I to ask God why? It was Him who gave him to me. It was Him who covered me all these years. It was Him who gave me encouragement. … I found peace about it.”
Gayle’s uncle, Fatoma Kallon, 48, said he is thankful for the 20 years of memories he and the family still have of Gayle.
He said he is sad that society — or at least his nephew’s killer — has seemingly lost touch with decency and respect. And now whoever killed his nephew will suffer the consequences, he said.
“Why? Because you don’t know how to have a conversation or to walk away,” he said, addressing the killer. “Knowing how to have a conversation and having a difference in opinion … nothing is worth taking someone’s life like that.”
Allegheny | Local | Monroeville Times Express | Top Stories