Mother says 'streets' stole son who was shot and killed at Cuyahoga Falls hotel
Police seek information
Cuyahoga Falls police are investigating the July 4 shooting death of Ajonte Dardie. The department is encouraging anyone with information to call the department’s crimefighter’s tip line at 330-971-tips or 330-971-8477.
CUYAHOGA FALLS — Tracy Dardie-Clay left West Akron to save her middle son, who turned from a Boy Scout and ballroom dancer into a boy in love with the streets.
But now every time she leaves her Cuyahoga Falls home, she’s confronted by the Sheraton Suites hotel, which is where her son, Ajonte Dardie, was shot and killed.
“Every day I step out to get my mail I have to come face to face with this hotel,” she said. “Every day. I will never be able to heal if I don’t leave here. I’m tortured here.”
Dardie, 19, was shot to death at about 11:30 p.m. July 4 during a party he was hosting at the Front Street hotel.
A month later, his mother pleads for an end to a cycle of violence and for a witness to speak up so her son can see justice.
The streets stole him
When Dardie-Clay thinks about her son, she doesn’t think about “Flont” or “Blat Boom” — his neighborhood and music video nicknames.
She said as a child, Dardie was an honor roll student with perfect attendance. He won spelling bees and academic challenges, went to summer camp and was a Boy Scout.
Dardie also showed a talent for entertaining from an early age. His mother said he was the most hilarious person you would ever meet. He was always joking, laughing, dancing, singing and happy, she said. He won a ballroom dance competition and was an Alchemy Inc. Afro-Centric Drummer.
“That’s what I think about when I think about my boy,” Dardie-Clay said. “Before the streets stole him from me.”
At some point in his early teens, she said, her son started to change. While keeping a lot of his street life hidden, Dardie started to become affiliated with the neighborhood, and started being changed by his environment, his mother said.
What made it more surprising was that Dardie didn’t “come from that,” she said. Dardie-Clay said her son wasn’t in a position where he’d have to turn to crime to feed or clothe himself.
“That’s not the hand he was dealt,” Dardie-Clay said. “That’s not the life he had. That’s what he chose for himself.”
She said her sons grew up in a two-parent household. Dardie-Clay said her son came from bonfires, luaus and Easter-egg hunts. The family went on vacations to places such as Universal Studios in Florida.
On a snow day, she said, Dardie would look outside and cry, mad that the snow kept him from going to school.
Dardie-Clay said one turning point was when her husband and Dardie’s longtime stepfather, Otis Clay, were shot and killed in August 2016. She said he was trying to break up a fight between other people when he was killed. Police records indicate no arrests were made in Clay’s killing.
She said her son started to live every day like it was his last and that he was drawn to the streets.
Dardie-Clay said her son hid a lot from her. She would see his music videos, where he went by the name “Flont” but to her at least some of that was a persona.
When she asked her son why he portrayed himself as being “from the gutter,” he told her “that’s what’s going to sell.”
Dardie-Clay said the line between her son and “Flont” is blurry, and as she learns more after her son’s death, she doesn’t know how much is real.
But she was always afraid that her son’s lifestyle would lead to his death.
“I stayed in constant fear,” she said. “I lived in constant fear of something happening to him, because he was just so wild.”
As teenagers she said Dardie and his friends started to call themselves a gang. What started as hanging out around the neighborhood would eventually lead to drugs, gambling and guns, she said.
Throughout the years, things became violent. Dardie-Clay said her son’s friends started “beefing” with another group of boys in town.
She said her home was shot up twice after her son was followed home. In December 2017, Dardie and another teen were shot while walking through a parking lot on Diagonal Road, according to a police report.
Dardie-Clay said her son thought he was invincible. When he was shot, she said he came out of it “almost like a star.”
The cycle of retaliatory violence also took the lives of Dardie’s friends. Instead of worrying about death, she said her son’s friends “glamorize it.”
She said an example of this is her son’s song “Been Thru,” which was uploaded posthumously as a tribute to Dardie.
In the music video, Dardie raps about the loss of Tyron Phelps, a 15-year-old who was shot and killed in July 2018 near Noah Avenue and Copley Road. Part of the music video is filmed at Phelps’ grave site.
The original footage is interlaced with video from Dardie’s funeral. What looks like a hundred teens and young adults are seen in the video, many wearing custom “Flont” or “Blat Boom” T-shirts.
Since Phelps’ death, Dardie-Clay said, other boys in his group have been killed, including Javonte Mills, a 20-year-old who was shot and killed in August 2019 near Firestone High School.
Dardie-Clay said she used to ask her son how she was supposed to live without him, telling him “once your life ends, my hell begins.”
Dardie-Clay said the last time she saw her son was at a barbecue before the party at the Sheraton.
By the time she came home, she got a call saying her son had been shot.
Cuyahoga Falls police continue to investigate the shooting, but no arrests have been made. Lt. Chris Norfolk said there’s been a lack of witnesses willing to come forward to speak with police.
Officers were already in the hotel for another call when the shooting happened. Police released five 911 call recordings from the incident, but none of the calls appeared to provide more information on what happened leading up to the incident.
Dardie-Clay has heard bits and pieces of what might have happened, but said she’ll probably never know the reality of why her son is dead, mostly because of a “no snitching” code.
Both police and Dardie-Clay say there were multiple people around the shooting when it happened.
She said there are people who saw what happened who aren’t cooperating with detectives. She understands that people may be staying quiet because they’re afraid of retaliation.
But Dardie-Clay said some of the same people hugging her and saying they love and miss Dardie are the same ones who could help find justice for her son.
“Speak up. If you really love my son the way you say you love my son then speak up,” Dardie-Clay said.
Anyone with information about the shooting is encouraged to call police at 330-971-tips or 330-971-8477.
Dardie-Clay said the last thing she wants is any retaliation. The only thing that will do, she said, is cause someone else’s mother pain.
“When you kill one person, you affect 100 people,” she said. “Now, here we all are with shattered lives, trying to figure out how to rebuild.”
At her son’s funeral, Dardie-Clay said she pleaded with everyone to end the violence and to “stop killing each other.” Not just for them, but to spare their families from the pain of losing them.
She started a Facebook page after her son’s death to connect women who lost someone to gun violence. It’s already grown to more than 50 people, and allows them to share their experiences.
“You cannot fathom what it feels like to see your child in the casket,” Dardie-Clay said. “Unless you did, unless you’ve done it yourself.”
Dardie’s death was his mother’s biggest fear coming true. After moving out of Akron a year ago, she’s moving to California with her other two sons, Dardie’s older brother, Agentris, and his younger brother, Amandrae.
As she was packing on Wednesday, Dardie-Clay said she could see her son everywhere she looked in her apartment.
“Everywhere I turn in here I can see him doing something,” she said. “Playing the video game. Making noodles in the oven. I can just see him all over this place, and I just want to go to try over fresh so I can get some kind of happiness back in my life. And I know I’ll never be able to do it here.”
Before his death, she said, Dardie was starting to take steps to get on the right path. She said a year ago, moving out of Akron to the Falls was like a “haven of rest” for them. Dardie wanted to get away.
She said he was hoping that music would be his way out. Dardie-Clay said her oldest son and Dardie worked together on videos. Now his music is on the radio and has been played in other countries, but he’s not able to see his success.
“They killed my baby’s dreams,” she said. “Not only did they kill him, they killed his dreams, and that’s what breaks my heart more than anything.”
Dardie-Clay said her son was lured by a lifestyle and built up a persona that got out of control.
“He was not a bad boy,” Dardie-Clay said. “He just was a young boy caught up in the ways of his environment and society and social media.”
But when she thinks of her son, she said, she doesn’t see “Flont.” She sees her baby.
Reach Sean McDonnell at 330-996-3186 or firstname.lastname@example.org.