Demantrae Franklin. Jacksonville, Florida.
June 1, 2020 | By Katie Buckley
This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class. The student credited above wrote this story as a class project.
Those three words encompassed Demantrae Franklin’s personality from a young age. Not a day went by that he wasn’t smiling or trying to make someone around him happy.
Trae, as he was called, was a 15-year-old student at Jean Ribault High School in Jacksonville, Florida. He played the euphonium in the band and spent his free time playing video games. He and his father had countless Madden Football matches. They spent hours at night playing just so they could have more time together, even if it meant Trae stayed up past his bedtime.
Trae loved to have fun with the people he loved.
But one night, Trae went out and never came back.
On October 27, 2014, Demantrae headed out to Eureka Gardens, a local apartment complex, to meet up with some friends. The area was known for the violent crimes that occurred there. Upon his arrival, Demantrae was shot multiple times in the back. A witness who heard the gunshots found Demantrae outside their back door.
When the police began to notify the family, Demetrice, Trae’s father, had his phone on silent. It wasn’t until several calls later that he spotted his phone screen light up from across the room. It was his sister calling him. “He’s gone. He’s gone,” she cried.
Confusion ensued. Trae was just out to see some friends – that was it. It took many phone calls from family and police for the harsh truth of the matter to hit Demetrice. His son was gone.
Rosezina Dib, Trae’s grandmother, found out at 1:01 a.m., a few hours later. She rushed barefoot out of the house and took a cab to the hospital, still in her pajamas. She couldn’t grasp what was happening.
When she got to the hospital, the gravity of the situation hit her. “I fell on my knees and forgot everything,” she said. “Why? Why? Why?”
To this day, she won’t respond to phone calls around that early morning time.
So many people showed up to pay their respects at Trae’s funeral. It felt like thousands, the family recalled. People that the family hadn’t seen or talked to in years came to honor his life. Classmates, family members, and friends mourned the loss of a young life, gone too soon due to gun violence.
Almost six years later, Trae’s murder remains unsolved. His family prays that someone will step forward and confess, giving them the answers they deserve.
But they haven’t let the cruel nature of his death overshadow the brightness of his soul. In his grandmother’s house, years of photographed memories hang on the wall. Each year of his life can be found captured on glossy paper. Each one shows his smile, the smile that Rosezina says, “you could see for a million miles.”
One photo particularly stands out on his father’s bedroom wall. Trae is sitting on a curb, facing one direction. Next to him is Demetrice in the same hunched over position, facing the opposite way. In that photo, the two look nearly identical sitting side-by-side. The only differences between them are signs of age. It is as if someone photoshopped a picture from his father’s youth and put it beside him. It is one of Demetrice’s favorite photos.
Trae may be gone but he’s remembered in photographs and in joyful memories.
Christmas is a big deal for the Franklin family, especially to Rosezina. No matter what, she said, she always makes sure her 10 grandkids get what they want, even if it means spending hundreds of dollars on each of them. She says money doesn’t matter; love does.
Clothes, toys, electronics – if they want it, they get it. She wants them to be happy and live good lives. This thought holds her together every time the holiday rolls around and she can’t buy presents for Trae like she once did. She misses the bright smile and joy on his face on Christmas Day. Nevertheless, she cherishes the fifteen Christmases she had with him.
Rosezina shares another memory of her grandson, one that speaks to the true love and respect in his heart.
Trae and a friend were outside one day having a water balloon fight. When the friend finally got hit with a balloon and soaked his shirt, he started to panic, afraid his mother would be mad. Trae immediately went inside to his bedroom.
Rosezina remembers him rifling through his closet for several long minutes. When he finally went back outside, he gave the friend a brand-new t-shirt. When asked why, Trae simply responded, “you’re my friend and I don’t want you to get in any trouble. Please keep it.”
His family says they continue to honor his life and keep his memory alive through prayer and love. While the crime remains unsolved, they believe Trae is still with them and watching over them.
“He made me a better person,” Demetrice said. “They may have taken his life, but they put him in a better place.”
If you have any information on the unsolved murder of Demantrae Franklin, please call the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office at (904) 630-0500. To remain anonymous and possibly be eligible for a $3,000 reward, call First Coast Crime Stoppers at (866) 845-TIPS.