ST. LOUIS — The front porch of the home on Thrush Avenue shows a caring touch: a green rug. Flowers and plants. Wind chimes and a lantern. Bullet holes patched with tape.
The alley behind it is stained with blood.
Rochelle Calhoun, a longtime resident of the troubled neighborhood, was passionate about maintaining her home and garden. And that led to fights with people cutting across her lawn and disrespecting her property, relatives said.
They believe those conflicts may have led to her death; Calhoun, 44, was shot multiple times last week in the alley. She died Sunday, her family said.
“She might’ve fussed or cursed people for walking across her property,” said Roberta Leasure, Calhoun’s cousin. “But she didn’t deserve to get shot in her head and left in the alley like a dog.”
Calhoun’s home is in St. Louis’ Walnut Park East neighborhood; she is the ninth person fatally shot in the neighborhood this year. Police have recorded 139 homicides citywide so far.
Calhoun was adamant about changing the neighborhood, said Alderwoman Pamela Boyd, whose ward includes Walnut Park East and four other neighborhoods in northwest St. Louis.
“I’m just devastated,” Boyd said. “She was someone who cared so much, who wanted to make a difference. She took the challenge on.”
But area residents said Calhoun, the mother of a teenage son, was aggressive. She carried a gun and wasn’t afraid to pull it.
Disinvested for so long
Calhoun, who previously owned a day care center and a laundromat, lived at the house for 13 years, Leasure said.
It’s a single-story wood-sided house in the 5500 block of Thrush. The front yard is neatly manicured. A garden grows in the front and back. A square of sunflowers still rises head-high or taller. Several signs nailed to the house decry gun violence, wish for peace and hope, but also warn that trespassers would be shot.
Boyd met Calhoun months ago. Calhoun arrived at Boyd’s office asking to speak to her about making changes to the neighborhood. She complained about people leaving trash in her yard.
After that first trip, Calhoun often visited Boyd. Most recently, she brought cucumbers, peppers, cabbage and zucchini from her garden, and pictures of work she had done on her home, Boyd said.
“People in these communities don’t want to live in that environment and they just need people to support them,” she said. “It’s been disinvested for so long that it’s hard for them to do it by themselves.”
But things were changing, Boyd said.
Dozens of abandoned buildings in the ward have been torn down, Boyd said. St. Louis has ramped up demolition efforts to address vacancy in the city. And Boyd wants to install at the market near Calhoun’s house a special surveillance camera with a 360-degree view that feeds live footage to St. Louis police.
Calhoun told Boyd she wasn’t giving up either. “’I’m going to keep fighting,’” Calhoun told her. She wanted to be a role model for her son, who lived with her at the home.
“She had that little boy with her,” Boyd said. “She wanted him to see the change, that there can be a change and you don’t have to live like this.”
But Calhoun recently called her cousin to tell her she was having problems with disrespectful neighbors, Leasure said.
“She called, angry and worried about something,” she said.
Leasure was at work at a child care center and couldn’t talk long. But she knew the troubles were getting to Calhoun. Her cousin had even begun staying with friends and family.
Still, Calhoun frequented her home to tend to it. She offered free vegetables from her garden and other food to people in the community, Leasure said.
‘When will the violence stop?’
Calhoun was last seen walking into neighboring Northway Supermarket, where she withdrew cash to pay for repairs to her truck, Leasure said. The market’s security camera recorded Calhoun entering the building with a man.
Calhoun’s own security camera, attached to the rear of her home, recorded her arguing with the same man later that day, before the two walked out of the frame, Leasure said.
“The doctor said whoever shot her, he was close enough that you could feel his breath,” Leasure said.
Leasure said police told the family that three men were in custody Wednesday in connection with the shooting. The cash Calhoun withdrew, and a gun she was carrying that day, were still missing, Leasure said.
Police declined to confirm the arrests or release more information.
“To gun down a black woman in the community who was only trying to help you all and keep her place safe and clean, that’s just not right,” Leasure said.
“When will the violence stop? When is it going to change?”