A year after Garious Burton’s death, family still searches for answers
On the morning of June 29, 2013, Kenquetta Cohen was running errands when she first received news of her younger brother’s murder.
“I turned completely numb inside,” Cohen said in a recent conversation.
Cohen, 35, lives in Greenwood, South Carolina, and she received the news via a Facebook message that was initially read by her daughter. And after reading the message, the young girl called her mother and told her that 30-year-old Garious Burton was being kept alive by life support.
“My daughter said, ‘G has been shot and he’s on life support,’” Cohen said. “I thought it was a dream. But when I talked to police, the first thing they said was that they were sorry for my loss.”
Around 1:15 a.m. that Saturday, police found Burton lying on the ground near the corner of Franklin Street and Morris Avenue suffering from a gunshot wound to the head. Cohen says she didn’t receive news about the shooting until eight hours later when her daughter read the Facebook message. Cohen then called Capital Health Regional Medical Center to speak to doctors about her brother’s condition. And as soon as she hung up the phone, Cohen received a call from police.
“With Garious on life support, I thought there was a chance that he would pull through,” Cohen said.
But her wish did not become a reality.
Cohen immediately booked a plane flight and arrived in New Jersey the following day. And relatives from Florida and Philadelphia joined Cohen at her brother’s side. Cohen initially found it difficult to walk through the hospital’s doors because medical facilities remind her of other deaths that the family has endured. And when she walked into her brother’s hospital room, Cohen burst into tears.
“It took me a minute to get myself together,” Cohen said. “And when I touched my brother’s body, it felt warm. So, I still had hope. I prayed and prayed, and I thought that maybe somehow he’ll survive. But the nurses kept telling me he was brain dead. Then, about 10 minutes after I entered the room, a man walked in and started talking about donating Garious’ organs.”
According to Cohen, her brother’s identification card did not list him as an organ donor. And Cohen feels that the hospital only kept him on life support in order to obtain permission to take his organs. Cohen declined to let the hospital use Burton’s organs, she said. But Cohen is grateful that she was able to spend one last moment with her brother before he was pronounced dead.
“If they had waited to ask me about his organs instead of confronting me as soon as I arrived, perhaps I could have given it some thought,” Cohen said. “But their timing was all wrong. That’s the part that really made me mad.”
Burton remained on life support for several more hours. And during that time, some of his relatives called other family members to inform them of the tragic news. But Cohen refused to leave her brother’s side. So, she laid in the bed next to Burton and prayed that he would awake.
“I laid on him, and I could feel his heart beating,” Cohen said. “But the nurses kept telling me it was just the machine that was making his heart beat. It was hard for me to believe that he was gone because his body was so warm. I didn’t want to leave the room; I just wanted to stay right there.”
Eventually, the nurses removed Burton from life support and rolled his body out of the hospital room. And Cohen was hit with a dose of reality.
“I realized that I had just lost my best friend,” Cohen said.
The last time she spoke with her brother, Cohen said, Burton talked about leaving Trenton and moving back to South Carolina. Cohen said her brother moved to NJ to be with his girlfriend nearly 13 years ago. But in the months leading up to his death, he felt homesick, Cohen said.
“When Garious moved away, he was still pretty young,” Cohen said. “As kids, I always looked after him, and I feel like I should’ve been there when he was shot. I miss talking with him and seeing him.”
When they were children, Burton and his sister used to pretend to be celebrities in music videos, with Garious as the backup dancer and Cohen as the lead singer, she said.
“We used to perform in fake concerts, and we always talked about having a career in music videos,” Cohen said.
And in the year since Burton’s death, his sister has found it difficult to cope with reality.
“I’ve tried to cope with it, but it’s been really hard,” Cohen said. “I still kinda feel as if he’s not gone. It feels like he’s still living in New Jersey, but I’m just not able to talk to him. But if I dwell on it, the memories become worse and I start to face reality. And when I look at and talk to his kids, they remind me of him as a child. It’s hard.”
Burton has two sons and a daughter, all of whom now live with their mothers. Cohen speaks to the kids nearly every week, she said. And when they talk about Burton, they remember the good times.
“His oldest son is real angry and wants to know why his dad had to die,” Cohen said. “I tried to explain to him that one day all of us will be gone, and that we just have to take it one day at a time.”
To date, no one has been arrested in connection with Burton’s death. And according to prosecutors, there have been no new developments in the case. Cohen, though, refuses to let her brother’s death be forgotten. Cohen closely follows the murders and arrests that occur in Trenton. And at least once a week, Cohen visits Homicide Watch Trenton to see if there’s new information regarding her brother’s death.
“I check to see if anyone left new comments,” Cohen said. “And I sometimes leave comments asking for anyone with information to please come forward so that we can at least have some closure. I think about my brother every day. I try to think about the good things as opposed to the bad. But most of all, I think about who shot him and why it was done. That makes me feel worse, and I drift to sad thoughts. Regardless of what happened, my brother didn’t deserve to be executed and left to die.”
Burton’s death is being investigated by the Mercer County Homicide Task Force. Anyone with information about the case is asked to call (609) 989-6406, or use the Trenton police confidential tip line at (609) 989-3663. Tipsters may also call the Trenton Crime Stoppers tipline at (609) 278-8477. Those wishing to text a tip can send a message labeled TCSTIPS to Trenton Crime Stoppers at 274637.