“He was always good at what he did,” Boysie recalls. “Like playing basketball, rapping. He used to get everybody’s attention over that. And when people wanted to go out, they’d always ask him to go out, because he knew how to get all the girls.”
About six months after moving back to East Harlem, Coleman bought a .40-caliber handgun from a neighborhood dealer for $500. Among his peers who hustled on Lexington, it was an unspoken code: “If you had enough money to buy one, you ought to have one, in case anything happens.” And for a teenager who was only five-eight and 165 pounds, owning a gun seemed an easy way to appear more intimidating.
Coleman decided to use his new gun to make some extra money on the night of October 18, 1993, a month before his 19th birthday. He had never tried to stick up anyone before, but, he figured, it couldn’t be that difficult. He slid the pistol into the waistband of his jeans, climbed onto his bike, and pedaled through the Johnson Houses.
Just after 1 a.m., he spied a man in his thirties, standing alone beneath the elevated train tracks at Park and 114th, smoking a cigarette. Coleman leaned his bike against a car, strode across the avenue, and pulled out his gun.
“Where’s the money at?” he asked, pointing his pistol at the man’s torso.
The man didn’t respond.
“Where’s the money at?”
The man stepped toward him, caught Coleman’s eye, and grabbed for the gun. Startled, Coleman squeezed off three shots. The man winced, but didn’t make a sound.
Coleman darted back to where he’d left his bike, threw one leg over it, and started pedaling as fast as he could. He felt the man behind him, trying to grab him, and when he turned to look, he saw him stumble. Coleman didn’t look back again and instead sped north on Park Avenue.
He made a loop—right on 115th Street, right on Lexington, right on 112th—and then stopped at the corner of Park and 112th to peek back at the spot where he’d just fired his gun. There was a car parked in the wrong direction, pointing south on the northbound side of the street, headlights facing him. And he thought he saw somebody kneeling over a body on the ground.
Before anyone could spot him, he leapt back onto his bicycle and raced home. His grandmother was already asleep when he snuck inside. After stashing the gun in a dresser drawer, he collapsed on his bed still wearing his street clothes, his face pressed into his pillow.
Over and over, he replayed the shooting in his head: his finger pulling the trigger, the three gunshots, the man starting to fall. And each time he hoped for a different ending, one where he looked up Park Avenue and saw nothing—no car parked in the wrong direction, no body on the ground. Perhaps it had all been just a very bad dream, he told himself. The thought comforted him, and he clung to it, turning it over in his mind.
Coleman didn’t tell anyone what he had done and kept to his routine in the following days. He hustled on Lexington Avenue, hung out with friends, smoked marijuana—all while secretly terrified about the possibility that the police might catch him. At one point, when he was walking up Lexington, he saw two detectives in front of his grandmother’s building. It looked as if they had just been talking to a small group of people and were now getting into their car. But as Coleman got close, one of the officers popped back out.
“Do you know anything about a shooting?” he asked. His question felt routine, as if he had just asked a hundred other people the same thing. “No,” Coleman said, trying to act nonchalant. “I don’t know anything.”
As he walked away, he repeated the officer’s words to himself, parsing them for clues. They had said “shooting”—they didn’t say homicide. Maybe the guy was okay after all.
A week after the shooting, Coleman retrieved the gun from his dresser, placed it in a shopping bag, walked the four blocks to the edge of Manhattan, and tossed it in the East River. “That was the only way I knew how to handle it,” he later explained. “I just tried to get rid of the memory of it, of the whole thing.” But every time he passed 114th and Park, he still found himself reliving that night: the sound of his gun going off, the man wincing and stumbling. He began avoiding Park Avenue altogether.
Ten days after the shooting, the police arrested Coleman for selling crack. Finding himself in Central Booking, he was consumed by one thought: Are they going to come in here any minute and say ‘We got you’? But the police knew nothing. The courts treated the 18-year-old as a “youthful offender”; he got off with no state prison time, and his case was sealed.