In an instant
How a life taken too soon will be remembered
“It feels so fast, then it feels so slow,” Savena Cox said as she scanned, frame by frame, through the images that were burned into her mind the night she watched the love of her life taken by a bullet.
“I can still see his face,” she said, bearing witness to the moment she believes the life and soul of her husband, Jamael Cox, left his body. “It won’t blur.”
When Savena, 23, heard the shots, she didn’t think twice about what to do. As a hail of bullets described by police as a “volley” between two unrelated shooters showered the 900 block of 10th Avenue Southwest, she defied her fight-or-flight instinct. Running into the gunfire, she refused to let Jamael be alone.
“He reached out to grab my hand,” she said, “I reached for his hand, and his hand got lighter. I watched him take his last breath.”
As the strength departed from his hand, his body grew cold on the summer’s warm asphalt.
“No, this shouldn’t have happened,” Savena Cox thought. “Our anniversary is tomorrow.”
For the last time in Jamael Cox’s life, the man described as generous to a near-fault knew what it was like to have someone invest in him more than he could return. After Savena Cox risked her own heartbeat to make sure he didn’t experience his last one alone, the only thing he could return was that look.
His best characteristic, described by others, was one that invested more energy into others than most would ever be able to return.
For the couple that had been involved in each other’s lives for 12 years — nearly half their young lives — death was, as it turned out, the only thing that could part them. On June 16, Jamael died the day after his 25th birthday and the day before what would have been their third wedding anniversary.
Their life together, in its ups and downs, was a joy they couldn’t bear to experience separated.
“Before we had to worry about life, we had each other,” Savena Cox said. “We just wanted each other. I’ll never find that again.”
Their relationship first became official when Jamael Cox, battling leukemia at 19, told nurses that Savena was his girlfriend — something he hadn’t even told her. The official start of their relationship marked the departure on a rough voyage in which he faced a 5% chance of survival.
Together, her love ensured that he not only survived, but thrived. Together, they neared the sixth anniversary to celebrate his remission.
“He was my priority,” said Savena Cox, who didn’t work at times during the battle to be his caretaker. “I was scared for my life because I had his life in my hands.”
She turned 18 right after he was first admitted to the hospital with the diagnosis. But spending her youth in the hospital to take care of him didn’t bother her. She was his advocate.
Her mother, Drushell Mosley, said she had never seen another relationship as strong as theirs.
“People wanted the relationship we had,” Savena Cox confirmed.
Mosley’s relationship with Jamael Cox was cemented by the care he showed not only for her daughter, but for her. When Mosley was diagnosed with cancer, too, he was the first one to buy her a wig.
When it came to food, their relationship was a good pairing, and one of the ways Mosley returned the love. Together, they would master the art of planning a feast.
“Now who am I gon’ cook for?” his mother-in-law asked.
As cancer became a thing of the past, Jamael Cox started to work factory-type jobs, where he enjoyed working with his hands to provide the best life he could for his family. Even before he was in remission, he worked three jobs to provide.
But the sweat he shed made him even more generous with others with the little he had. When he found out a woman trying to sell shoes to him was homeless, he simply gave her the money, Savena Cox said — despite their difficult personal financial situation.
That’s the man — not the headline of a victim — the family said Fort Dodge should remember.
They could have been happy together with nothing but a cardboard box to live in, she said — and at times, their life wasn’t far from homelessness.
Even with humble beginnings, they had dreams to travel the world. Specifically, he wanted to travel the world in the type of RV he referred to as a “Scooby Doo” van, which friends instantly understood when referenced. Eventually, they planned to have children.
They enjoyed evening cruises and conversation in the car, a tradition Savena Cox still carries on when she wants to talk to him.
“I don’t feel like I should be looking at his death certificate … or hearing his laugh through a video,” she said. “I can’t even talk about him in the past tense.”
Along with the PTSD that she inherited from the shooting, everything reminds her of him. Her life routines rarely diverged from his presence, by choice, making recovery from the trauma for the 23-year-old widow even more difficult.
Now, she chooses to remember the man she lived with — the man who last said to her “love you babe, I’ll be back,” refusing to let him die twice.
The pain of losing someone to a bullet was not foreign to her before June’s tragedy. Last September, her 17-year-old brother, Daiqualis Poe, was killed after being shot. In a span of just over nine months, she lost the two men she was closest to in her life.
“When can we be done (with death)?” she asked rhetorically, trying to make sense of the senseless events.
Losing a loved one to gun violence, she said, involves an anger that steeps with time.
Justice, she said, would be more than locking the shooters up — it would mean that their killers feel her pain.
Neither her husband’s nor her brother’s killer has been brought to justice. Until then, Savena Cox waits for peace.
How to help
A fundraiser in honor of shooting victim Jamael Cox will be held to help his surviving wife, Savena, begin to move forward from the tragedy.
Patrons can purchase dinners for $8 at a banquet planned for from 2-8 p.m. on Aug. 8 at Rides Bar & Grill, 723 S. 31st St.
Raffles and gift baskets will also be available.
Funds raised will help cover remaining funeral costs, the cost of a headstone for Jamael, bills that have accumulated since his death and the purchase of necessary items as Savena Cox moves into another home.