Erik Harper, age 11, had a deal with his grandmother.  If Joseph Randolph Mays, the man living with him and his Deaf mother, and his younger brother Dakota, ever tried to really hurt them — it was an open secret in the family that Mays was physically beating all of them — Erik would send her an emergency text message in code: “The Sky is Blue” that meant they were in real danger and she should call 911.

On Saturday, March 21, Erik sent “The Sky is Blue” emergency message to his grandmother.  The alert was ignored.

Instead of calling 911, the family did nothing and planned to ask Erik why he sent that emergency text message when he and Dakota arrived a couple of hours later for a visit.

When the boys didn’t show up, the family finally called the police.

When the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police broke down the door of the apartment three hours after Erik sent his death cry of a message, they found Erik in the bathroom near the toilet.  He’d been stabbed to death like his mother Erika.

Erik’s brother, Dakota, age 10, was still alive when the police arrived.  He later died of his stab wounds at the hospital.

It seems Joseph Randolph Mays became enraged and stabbed Erik’s mother 18 times with a hunting knife.  The tip of the blade was broken off and embedded in the back of her skull.

After the attack began, Erik scrambled his brother into the bathroom where they locked the door and sent the urgent blue sky message to their grandmother.

Mays, after murdering their mother, quickly broke down the bathroom door and began stabbing the boys.

Dakota made a break for the front door of the apartment, but he wasn’t strong enough to lift the security bar to escape.

Neighbors told the police stories about Erik leaping from the second floor window of the apartment into the muddy courtyard below to escape May’s previous beatings.

Today, we’re left with another senseless triple murder in America, and one begins to wonder why we so quickly devalue direct threats and excuse cries in the night and ignore pre-planned pleas for help?

We know women were made for gashing as entertainment.  We understand the hard price of a life in Jersey City is $6.00.

We, as a society, claim we mourn the untimely murder of Nixzmary Brown and the unearned killing of Imette St. Guillen, but do we really?

We, as a people, fight the notion that babies are born only to die in air shafts — even though they do.

Many in the media were outraged and offended by this domestic violence Public Service Announcement starring Keira Knightley because it went “too far” in delivering its blunt message:

Does that Keira Knightley video go too far in demonstrating the reality of domestic violence; or does it not go far enough?

I wish we could ask Erik Harper.


  1. So long as domestic violence continues, no message can go far enough to put in in our minds and eyes and ears that it is still out there.

  2. Hi David!
    Why is it when a gun is brought into a school that all precautions are taken to prevent a catastrophe? Yet many homes are by far a bigger threat to those innocently dwelling there? How many have to die before someone finally gets the message (text or otherwise) loud and clear?
    The unfortunate state of our economy will drastically effect this type of violent behavior and give it fuel to escalate. I see women all the time who have been beaten and abused. The danger is profoundly real yet they always go back! But why drag children into the “nightmare” too? This is a disturbing thought to me. Who will protect the children in these situations?
    Play the Public Service Message as many times as necessary … till people open their eyes and finally get the point. So what if it offends them! Then at least you know that you have their full attention for a change.

  3. Gordon —
    Domestic Violence is our shared dirty little secret. We might hear some screams across the hallway or hear gossip about someone up the street — but proving the violation, especially if the victim refuses to testify — is the real test of a caring society.

  4. Heartmelody69 —
    This is a difficult and ugly secret that gets kept out of fear. The abused know if they say something they will more than likely end up in the same abusive hands again and they’ll pay even more dearly for squealing. Domestic Violence is all about power and control — and those that practice the evil deed are incredibly good at picking their victims and keeping them in terror.

  5. That is the question, Katha. The family knew of the abuse. That’s why the emergency code phrase was set in the first place. Then, when the child used the code — the message was received but it was ignored! That is the real tragedy. Lives could have been saved if the emergency covenant had been honored by the adults.

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