HAVERHILL — Candles were lit next to a display of white roses in front of 8 Kimball St., as more than 50 friends and relatives of Izayah Cruz mourned his death.
Thursday night's display in the Acre neighborhood came mere hours after the man accused of stabbing 21-year-old Cruz to death was allowed to walk free.
The vigil was an equal mix of grief and anger for the family of Cruz, who lost his life Sept. 1 after an altercation in a section of the city known for street crime. During the vigil — attended by Cruz's mother, Maria Rivera, and his brother Elijah — those close to the man known affectionately as "Izzy" searched for answers from both neighbors and Haverhill police officers who monitored the vigil.
"I don't trust the system. There's something wrong here. I need help to get justice for my son. He didn't deserve this," Rivera said through tears as her son's friends chanted "No justice, no peace" and yelled profanity at 10 Kimball St. where Evanda Jackson, the man charged with the Sept. 1 stabbing, lives with his wife and two young children.
What the group did not know, however, was that Jackson, 47, was not home at the time of the vigil, and did not hear their chants. He and his family left the neighborhood 90 minutes earlier, around 5 p.m., under the cover of darkness.
During the vigil, Claritza Castillo, the 22-year-old woman Cruz was walking to her 8 Kimball St. home the night he was killed, went around to neighbors' homes to hand out laminated posters displaying his photo and that of Jackson, along with the phrase "No justice, no peace."
She also hand delivered posters to four police officers sitting in their cruisers on Kimball Street. They were sent to the vigil to keep order.
Other people at the vigil tacked the posters to utility poles.
"I can't sleep. I barely eat. I lost weight," Castillo said of how she has spent the last two months living next to the family of the man now cleared in the killing. "I just want everyone to help us to get justice, for them to (consider) what kind of person would kill somebody and come home like it never happened."
A spokeswoman for District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said Thursday that a grand jury failed to return an indictment on charges brought against Jackson. In the case, grand jury members were asked to consider first degree murder, second degree murder and manslaughter charges, and returned "no bills'' on all three, Blodgett's spokeswoman Carrie Kimball said. She said a "no bill" means they did not find enough evidence to charge Jackson.
Jackson was held in Middleton Jail since his Sept. 1 arrest, and was released Thursday after the grand jury decision.
Rivera said she was notified Thursday that there was not enough evidence to charge Jackson with her son's death. She hopes that neighbors come forward with security footage from the Sept. 1 incident or speak out against what she said is Jackson's violent past.
Castillo and other mourners signed their names to a white balloon that was released during the vigil. The balloon also included the words "Long live your soul, I'll always scream 'Izayah's world.'"
Neighbor Melissa Horne-Lopez said she sympathizes with the group's plight, but argued the problem extends beyond the Police Department.
"I'm a mother, I get it. We're all hurt," said Horne-Lopez. "What would you do if your kids were watching this (display)? It's not that we don't understand their pain. It's not the Police Department's fault. It's a justice system problem."
According to a police report from the night of Cruz's death, Jackson admitted he used a knife he carried in his waistband "for self defense" to stab Cruz in the chest after an altercation in front of Castillo's home.
According to a police report, Cruz dropped off Castillo at her home between 3 and 4 a.m. When they arrived at her home, she noticed her neighbor — later identified as Jackson — drinking Fireball whiskey outside with a friend, the report said. She told police Jackson appeared to be intoxicated, the report said.
Castillo told police Jackson approached the couple and offered her alcohol but she did not accept and felt disrespected by his actions, according to the report. When she and Cruz were walking toward her home, Jackson pushed Cruz, the report said. Once she was inside her home, Castillo saw Jackson push him again, according to the report. Cruz was eventually able to get into his car and leave, the report said.
According to Elijah Cruz, his brother returned to their home after dropping off his girlfriend and asked Elijah to come back to Kimball Street with him to confront Jackson and the other man, the police report said.
Elijah Cruz is quoted in the report as saying Jackson "became enraged" when the brothers returned to Kimball Street. When Izayah Cruz got out of his car to confront Jackson, Jackson pulled out a knife and stabbed him once in the chest, according to the report. Jackson said he used a knife he regularly carries for self defense, and said the passenger in the car was holding an "elongated weapon" and yelling that Jackson was "messing with the wrong gang,'' according to the police report. In his interview with police, Elijah said he had a red metal wheel lock device with him and began banging it on the ground in an effort to get Jackson and the man with him to back up, according to the police report.
Jackson said he had a small knife in his waistband as the men faced each other, and when Jackson went to reach for the knife, Izayah punched him in the mouth, according to the report.
Jackson said he then pulled out the knife and stabbed Izayah once in the chest, according to the report. Elijah told police that when Jackson approached his brother, he said something "to the effect of 'I told you .... what would happen,'" according to the report. The Cruz brothers then drove away, with Izayah eventually bleeding to death.
After the stabbing, Jackson told investigators he went back inside his home, had a cigarette, used a paper towel to wipe blood off the knife and went to bed, the report said. After police found out about the death, officers went to the scene of the stabbing. When Jackson's wife saw the officers outside, she encouraged him to tell them what happened, according to the report. He went outside and talked to them, which led to his arrest.
Jackson was employed at Anna Jaques Hospital as a sterile technician at the time of his arrest, though hospital officials said they suspended him from his job after the stabbing. Jackson and his wife have two children, ages 9 and 11.
Court officials said Jackson was previously accused of possessing a sawed-off shotgun and domestic assault in Virginia, among other offenses. Jackson was also involved in an incident in December 2017 in Salisbury where he drove his car into another man. Although that case was later continued without a finding for a year, Jackson was ordered to attend and complete an anger management course.