By Ameera Steward
There wasn’t a dry eye inside Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on Tuesday when the parents of slain 21-year-old Emantic Fitzgerald “E.J.” Bradford Jr. spoke during a prayer vigil for their son.
After family attorney Ben Crump gave words of support, he introduced Emantic Fitzgerald Bradford Sr. “It’s a hard pill to swallow. No parent wants to get that phone call late at night,” said the elder Bradford, who told stories about his son, whom he called E.J.
Bradford said he always worried about E.J. and made sure he was safe; and his son did the same for him.
“He’d come by the house and spend the weekend with me, treat me like I’m his kid. I’ll be in the room sleep, he’d tap on the door, ease on in there ‘Daddy you need anything?’, ‘Nah E.J., I’m straight’” said Bradford.
Bradford who has chemo treatments said his son would visit him every day to see if he needed anything and if he didn’t come by, E.J. would call. Their last conversation was on Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Bradford said.
“He came by the house and he said ‘daddy, I need some gas money cause I got to take momma to work in the morning’ I said ‘go down there and get you some money off the dresser’ so he came back…he said ‘I’m gone daddy I love you’ I said ‘I love you too,’” said Bradford.
When E.J. was trying to get out of the driveway, Bradford teased him before saying, “you better go straight home.”
“He said ‘I’m going straight home’, that’s the last conversation me and my son had. But the thing is, the memories I got of my baby,” said Bradford.
On the night of the shooting, Bradford said he called the Hoover Police Department, after he called his son a few times and didn’t get an answer. “I called them at 12:30, my child was dead at 9 o’clock,” said Bradford.
When he did speak to someone with the police department they told him someone would call him back in 10 minutes, but no one did.
Bradford ended up calling back at 3:43 a.m. and was told that they couldn’t talk and couldn’t tell him anything.
Bradford said he eventually was told that it was his son however he was disappointed that the Hoover police released his son’s name without apparently reviewing the video tapes.
Following the Thanksgiving night shooting, Hoover Police mistakenly claimed Bradford had fired shots at the mall, injuring two other people: an 18-year-old male who was shot twice and a 12-year-old girl was wounded and later transported to Children’s of Alabama.
Bradford said he wished they gave the sheriff’s office a chance to finish reviewing them tapes before they released his son’s name. Bradford said he felt like E.J. had been “smeared and slandered . . . when it went nationwide everybody saw it across the country,” he said.
“Yeah that hurt me because that’s my friend, that’s my child. I’ve been taking care of him since he’s been in this world. His momma right here, I’m right here and his step momma right here. I used to tell them all the time, you think he ain’t got a daddy, he got a daddy, always had one,” said Bradford.
He continued, “My child was a good kid, he was respectful, he liked having fun, he loved his grandmother, he loved his mama, he loved his uncles, but it’s to the point where I can’t hear him say daddy no more, you don’t walk through my door and call my name. Again, I’ll never be able to dig in my pocket and give my child any money,” said Bradford.
“Now my child gone, I got to bury my baby boy and it hurts me to the core because being at home every day ain’t gone be no fun because I can’t talk to my child,” said Bradford. “I love my son but I can’t hear him say daddy, I can’t see him….I didn’t want to bury my boy like this. It hurt me bad but I’m going to be strong.”
E.J.’s mother, April Pipkins, was just as emotional.
“It’s been a hard time for the family and his father has said it in a nutshell, and our Thanksgiving will never ever be the same,” she said. “Every holiday we have to relive that over and over again. It’s like I’m just at a loss of words. I’m trying to be strong during this time and hold up,” said Pipkins.
Pipkins was overcome by emotion and passed out and an ambulance was called.
This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.