A Family’s Surprising Response to a Murder

Johann and Carl Richardson Sr. in their home. (The Ink/Tara Law)

Carl Richardson’s image is everywhere in his parents’ home in Brookville, Queens. It’s blown up like a celebrity on several life-size cardboard cutouts propped around the living room. On a poster beside the kitchen table, he mugs for the camera from a king’s throne. Richardson’s older brother, Orane Golding, 29, even has Richardson’s face tattooed on his hand.

Even without the images, the family will never forget the 19-year-old college student who was murdered on March 27, 2014 by his barber, Cedric Simpson, now 37. According to court documents, Simpson had refused to pay for a pair of headphones Richardson had sold him, and the two men began to argue outside of Simpson’s barbershop, Select Stylez in Laurelton, Queens. Richardson demanded that Simpson either return the headphones or pay for them. Court documents state that when Richardson followed Simpson into the shop, Simpson stabbed him in the chest and back with a pair of scissors. Simpson was convicted in Queens County Supreme Court of first-degree manslaughter on Feb. 3, 2015 and sentenced to 19 years in prison.

Carl Richardson Sr., holding the t-shirt his family wore during Simpson’s trial. (The Ink/Tara Law)

For his mother and father, keeping Richardson’s image around their home is part of an effort to show that the horrific circumstances of his murder do not define who he was or what his legacy should be. That effort goes beyond photographs. They have spent the two years since Richardson’s death working to turn their worst nightmare into a force for good in their community. They publicly forgave Simpson for the murder, and with the help of their surviving son and daughter, they started a foundation in Richardson’s name.

“One thing I promised my son: I would never let his name die,” said Richardson’s mother, Johann, 52, a social worker. “So we’re going to do everything as much as we can to keep his name out there, for people to know who Carl was and keep it going. He would’ve wanted that.”

On a warm and sunny September day in the Richardson’s neighborhood, the sounds of the city were distant. Sprinklers clacked as they sprayed green lawns. The homes appeared neat and comfortable and would not be out of place in any suburban town.

Richardson’s father, Carl Richardson Sr., 59, an MTA train driver, placed laminated news clippings on the family room coffee table. Each functions as a snapshot of the days after the murder. One includes a photo of Simpson, wiping away tears at his sentencing. On top of the pile, Richardson’s father, placed a pair of cordless headphones. They’re just like the ones Richardson sold to Simpson.

Richardson started selling the headphones to earn money to go toward buying his first car, his father said. His father had put aside money for him, but Richardson wanted to save more on his own to buy a nicer vehicle. After he spotted his father using the headphones, Richardson began ordering them wholesale from a manufacturer in China, his father said. Soon he had saved enough money to set a date to buy a car.

He never got the chance.

Two weeks before his death, Richardson and his sister, Sherina Peredaviz, 32, chatted about the future, she said. “I think I’m gonna die young,” she recalled him saying. Peredaviz said he told her he did not want the usual funeral with crying mourners dressed in black. He wanted the reggae music he loved. He also wanted to be cremated, said his mother.

The family followed his wishes. Peredaviz said it’s difficult to put their experience during those first few weeks into words. “You feel kind of weightless,” she said. “I just felt kind of hollow.”

Richardson’s parents said they were overwhelmed by the crowd of Richardson’s friends and their families that suddenly filled their home. Many cried or wanted to share their memories. “There were times when this house could not hold them,” says Richardson’s mother. Swept up in the funeral, they did not realize that over 500 people had attended until they began to write thank-you notes.

Richardson’s family recalled his love of helping others, especially children. He tutored younger students and did volunteer work with handicapped children two or three times a week. He donated blood, marched for breast cancer and helped elderly neighbors with household tasks. High school friend Hollie Kawall, 21, described him as very supportive. “He always comforted you,” she said. “You could always talk to Carl about your problems.”

Richardson wanted to find a career that would allow him to help people, said his girlfriend Sheneque Mardner, 20. He would say, “I want to be successful for the people that’s around me,” said Richardson. “It didn’t make sense for him to accumulate wealth without giving back.”

Richardson had decided to pursue a career as an occupational therapist, Mardner said, and was planning to transfer from Nassau Community College to York College. His mother and sister both work at the state’s Early Intervention Program for children with disabilities, and his mother said he hoped to do so, too. “So we would talk a lot about, you know, what we do with the kids and everything,” she said, “and he was all excited about doing it.”

The Richardsons said that strangers still approach them to talk about their son. Some of Richardson’s friends continue to drop in to check on his parents. The extent of their affection surprises them, said Richardson’s father. “All over, we would meet people on the street and they would have a story to tell us. You know, we had no idea how he came to touch them the way he did.”

It is difficult for Richardson’s parents to accept the seemingly innocuous details of their son’s life that led to his death: A barber. A pair of headphones. Richardson’s mother said she was surprised at the trial when Simpson, who had cut Richardson’s hair from the time the teen was 14, testified that he saw Richardson as a friend. “Cause if that is your friend, you know, why would you do that to him?” said Richardson’s mother. “Over, as you can see, those cheap headphones? He’s a kid. He’s 19 years old. You’re 35. You’re a grown man with kids of your own.”

The family spent a long time talking and agreed they wanted to do something to honor their son and brother. “He was that kind of kid,” Richardson’s mother said. “He has to live on.”

A week after his death, Richardson’s family chose to do something rare for the families of murder victims: They stood before the press in front of their home to forgive the man who had taken his life. “I’m a woman of God,” said Richardson’s mother. “I was just focusing on my own family.”

While other members of the family were more reticent, they were willing to join Richardson’s mother to make a public statement forgiving Simpson. “Hating him would keep him in control and would keep me from thinking about my brother,” said Peredaviz. “Each of us are just trying to make him proud by being a little more like him.”

The family worked together to start the Carl Richardson Foundation. Richardson’s uncle provided $1,000 to pay for college scholarships for four high school students who put on a play promoting peaceful conflict resolution. The foundation conducted a blood drive and participated in a walkathon to honor Richardson’s organ donation. They wore T-shirts emblazoned with Richardson’s image and favorite quote, “We rise by lifting others.”

For Peredaviz, time has not made the loss any easier. “Sometimes it just pops in your head,” she said. “It’s always like the first time you’re hearing it.”

Two and a half years later, Richardson’s father vividly remembers the last time he saw his son walk through their front door. “Carl was standing right here, and I was standing over here, on the day that he left out the house,” he said. “I said to him — I used to call him Boo — I said to him, ‘Boo,’ cause he had my car, I said, ‘be careful.’ He said, ‘Okay dad.’ I said, ‘I love you.’ He said, ‘I love you, dad.’ And I stood in the window there, and I watched him drive to the corner and make a left turn.”