CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Questions remain after a shooting claimed the life of a 21-year-old Richmond resident Monday night on Interstate 95.
“When you lose your child, the world is over,” Tomika Phillips said. “Your life changes.”
Ja’mari was killed in an incident that Virginia State Police (VSP) said started at approximately 11:30 p.m. Monday in the northbound lanes of the interstate at the 55 mile marker, with shots fired as a black 2011 Ford Focus and an unknown vehicle were driving. According to a release, at the 58 mile marker near Ruffin Mill Road, the Focus pulled off onto the right shoulder. Ja’mari was inside.
“I was just trying to stay positive, thinking, you know, no one is injured, no one is hurt,” Tomika said. “But I didn’t know what to think because all type of things was going through my head. But I just was trying to remain positive.”
A VSP spokesperson said that the unknown vehicle pulled in front of the Focus and also stopped on the shoulder. A male in the unknown vehicle reportedly got out and continued shooting at the Focus. According to a release, the unknown vehicle then drove off as the male shooter ran away from the scene on foot. Police said the shooter was picked up a short time later by another unknown vehicle near a group of dealerships along the interstate.
Ja’mari was one of three individuals inside the Ford Focus. Authorities said there was also a male driver who ran away from the scene on foot. A spokesperson said that evidence collected within the car suggested that he may have been injured in the shooting. However, despite checking area hospitals, he has yet to be located.
There was also a 22-year-old male passenger from Richmond in the Focus, but police have not released his identity. He reportedly ran away from the scene on foot at the same time and in the same general direction as the driver of the Focus, but then returned to the scene once VSP arrived. He was not injured in the shooting.
“We saw all the police. I pulled over on the highway,” Tomika said. “I never knew a body was in the car because they said someone ran. So I’m thinking, honestly, I was praying and hoping that he was the person that ran, and I said that to the police.”
Tomika told 8News that she received a call from one of Ja’mari’s friends a few hours after the shooting happened. She got in the car and drove to see for herself.
“I didn’t want that to be my child, you know, now that I know that a body is in the car,” she said. “I didn’t want that to be him.”
Tomika said she waited near the scene until the early hours of Tuesday morning. She told 8News that she continued to hope for the best, still uncertain of what had happened to her son.
“I’m getting frustrated, I’m getting scare now. I’m sensing and feeling that it is him,” she said. “I still just was holding on to a piece of hope that it’s not him.”
Tuesday morning, Tomika said she received confirmation that her son had been gunned down.
“It’s hard that you got to bury your child, when your children supposed to bury you,” she said. “I’m numb. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to think.”
Ja’mari was a father of two young children. He leaves behind his parents, girlfriend and siblings. But this isn’t the first time the Phillips family has gone through the tragic death of a loved one.
“I lost his sister back in 2016 to gun violence,” Tomika said. “I’m still grieving the loss of her. How do I get over the pain or get through it, when I still have pain being added on to what I’m already going through?”
Tomika said that she wants justice for her son. But, more than that, she said she wants the violence to stop.
“No mother deserve to have to go through this,” she said. “You look at me, you see the hurt. I’ve buried two children. I don’t wish it on nobody’s parent because it’s not a good feeling, sleepless nights, all those things.”
VSP said that more than two dozen shell casings were collected at the 58 mile marker on I-95 after Monday night’s shooting. Based on the evidence, authorities have determined that there were at least two different firearms used in the shooting. A VSP spokesperson said that the shooting does appear to have been a targeted and deliberate act.
Tomika told 8News that she did not know the other individuals who were in the car with her son that night, and she doesn’t know why anyone would want to hurt him.
“He was full of life, full of love,” she said. “He got two babies. Both of them are going to grow up not even knowing — even get to have that relationship with their father. Only thing they going to see is pictures and stories that we can give them.”
The Phillips family is not alone in the dealing with the impacts of gun violence on interstates in the greater Richmond area in recent months. Throughout 2021, VSP initiated 25 investigations into shootings of vehicles occurring on I-95, I-85 and I-64.
Now in the first month of 2022, approximately 24 hours after Monday’s shooting, VSP reported another shooting incident, less than 10 miles from the night prior.
Authorities said that at 11:21 p.m. on Tuesday, they received a call about a vehicle being shot in Petersburg. A VSP spokesperson said that a white Chevrolet Impala was traveling on I-95 when it was hit by several gunshots fired by another individual in a passing car. The Impala reportedly pulled off onto the ramp for Exit 48 for Wagner Road and its driver ran on foot to a nearby gas station, where 9-1-1 was called.
According to VSP, the 33-year-old male driver from Petersburg was taken to the hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries after he was shot during the incident.
Authorities said that the driver was unable to provide a description of the suspect’s vehicle.
At this time, VSP does not believe Monday and Tuesday’s shooting incidents on the interstate are related. However, both investigations remain active.
“It’s the time for them to stop everything because no parent should have to go through this,” Tomika said.
Anyone with information related to either shooting is asked to contact VSP by calling 804-609-5656 or #77 on a cell phone, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.