Son of local couple killed by stray bullet in D.C.
Jeremy Black remembered as a brave Peace Corps worker, son and father
BLOOMINGDALE — Jeff and Barbara Black remember their son Jeremy as a bold and courageous man who devoted his life to empowering others, raised a loving family and embedded himself in communities around the world.
Jeremy was killed by a stray bullet in Washington D.C. on June 29 while he, his wife and their friends were walking home from a restaurant. He was caught in the crossfire of a shootout between two groups of people. He was 53 years old and had a wife, Cathy Feingold, and two children.
His parents, who know him as “Jerry,” said he loved the Adirondacks and had hopes to retire here. He grew up visiting his grandparents on Olive Street. When his parents moved to the area in 2016, he enjoyed bringing their two grandsons up for paddling and hiking. He visited here last on Memorial Day.
His family is heartbroken, struggling with the emotions and “cruelty” of how sudden his death was.
“It’s unbelievably difficult to take in this event,” Jeff said on Wednesday. “We’ll never get over it. That’s the last thing we want, is to get over it.”
Jeff and Barbara said they are trying to keep treasuring their son. Their memories of him still make them laugh just as hard as the moment they happened. But when they think about how suddenly his life was taken, it is incredibly painful.
“It hasn’t challenged my faith,” Jeff, a retired evangelical reverend, said, “but I’ve never leaned harder on it.”
D.C. police are searching for the men who shot Jeremy, offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to their arrest. Police said two men fired at each other and Black was hit in the crossfire.
Jeff said the police are keeping he and Barbara informed.
“I’m not wanting vengeance, but I’m wanting justice,” Jeff said.
These men took his son’s life, he said.
Remembering a son, husband, father
Jeremy was named after Jeff’s twin brother, his uncle.
Barbara said he was the “best son.”
“He didn’t deprive me of any opportunity to flex my mom muscles, whatever that meant,” she said.
Sometimes it was hugs, sometimes it was challenging him.
He played guitar and the trumpet. He was a worship leader in his wife’s Jewish community. He was a triathlete and a skier. At 49 years old, he took up karate with his sons.
Jeff said he will miss their deep discussions about John Milton or William Shakespeare. Barbara said she will miss his award-winning pies and watching him carve his giant Thanksgiving turkey.
They said he was wickedly, hold-your-sides funny.
He celebrated life and was frustrated when he couldn’t make it better for other people.
Jeff and Barbara remember when their friends came to visit to see 16-month-old Jeremy and meet his newborn sister. They brought him a firetruck wrapped in red and purple paper.
At some point in the night Jeff went looking for Jeremy and found him in his sister’s bedroom, watching her sleep in her crib. Jeremy had placed the colorful wrapping paper at the foot of her bed. It was the first gift he ever gave. Barbara said he was a skilled gift-giver. He never took their suggestions — he’d go find one on his own, and they were always thoughtful.
One night, when Jeremy was 6 years old, Jeff went to say goodnight. Jeremy’s eyes were wide open. Jeff asked him what he was thinking about.
“I’m deciding what I’m going to dream,” he responded.
Jeff said his son revealed himself to him then.
“When it came to his own family and his life, he decided what to dream and went there,” Jeff said.
He was a lawyer for a short time and at one point wanted to join the Professional Golfers’ Association Pro Tour.
He was an excellent golfer.
Barbara said her father taught him to golf on the Saranac Lake Golf Club when he was eight years old.
But he chose the Peace Corps instead.
A courageous life
Jeremy was inspired to join by his great-uncle, his uncle and his father.
His Uncle Peter served in the Peace Corps shortly after its creation.
He grew up in a pastor’s home and saw his father go on mission trips.
Jeff’s “Uncle Bob” pulled a young Jeremy aside one time and shared with him the contents of a fishing tackle box he kept and rarely opened — a Distinguished Service Cross and two Purple Hearts. He had served in World War II and had fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
Jeremy wanted to serve, too. He was committed to non-violence, so the Peace Corps was his avenue.
“He found a niche of government that was all about being decent,” Jeff said.
He rode his bike 10 miles through Kansas City in the snow to apply.
He spent 20 years in the Peace Corps and became part of the inspector general’s staff. His job was to make sure the Corps’ work was as effective as possible by evaluating its work.
“Through his work, he sought to ensure that Peace Corps stays true to its mission,” the National Peace Corps Organization wrote in a statement, expressing sympathies to Jeremy’s family.
Jeff and Barbara said they were proud of him and always looked forward to his letters home.
Jeremy met his wife Cathy in graduate school. She is the Director of the International Department for the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations labor rights union. He traveled the world alone and with his wife by his side — to the Dominican Republic, Haiti, France, India, Nepal, Vietnam and Thailand.
He was not afraid of going to dangerous places and sought out places in need.
“If there was something horrible going on, he’d go there,” Jeff said.
He was in two earthquakes — in Haiti and Nepal.
“He was always on the hunt for justice,” Barbara said.
The countries he traveled to were sometimes in political turmoil, hotspots for disease or experiencing natural disasters.
But it was at home in the nation’s capital where the “unbelievable” happened.
The cost of violence
The Blacks said Jeremy was out to dinner with Cathy and two long-time friends, meeting up for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. When they left the restaurant they took a walk around, enjoying the beautiful night and peaceful neighborhood — the husbands in front, the wives following closely behind.
On the 1400 block of R Street, Northwest, they heard a popping sound but thought it was fireworks because the Fourth of July was coming up. When they heard more, they started walking faster.
“Oh, I’m hit,” Jeff was told he said.
Jeremy sat down on the sidewalk.
Jeremy died in his wife’s arms with his friends speaking to him.
Janice Holland, a neighbor who heard the shooting, told WUSA9, “(I) saw a man lying on the ground, his wife in the background, calling out his name, telling him, ‘I love you.'”
The bullet went through his heart and lungs and lodged in his chest. His parents said there was no chance of recovery. D.C. paramedics brought Jeremy to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
A security camera caught a white Chevrolet Equinox park in a nearby alleyway that night. Four men in hoods and gloves got out. A short time later they ran back and drove off. Jeff said there was an altercation between the group and some people on a porch. Barbara said they carried semi-automatic pistols. D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee said officers determined a handgun and rifle were used.
Bullets hit cars and houses in the neighborhood.
“One of those bullets went right through our son’s chest,” Jeff said.
He called the guns “weapons of war.”
“There’s a struggle with anger, as well as grief,” Jeff said. “This is really outrageous. There’s no other country in the world where you can’t walk down the street to your car without getting shot.”
Jeremy’s parents said they are trying to make sense of what happened, to find meaning in it.
They said they don’t want Jeremy’s death politicized. Fox News called. They didn’t answer.
Cathy created the Jeremy Black Memorial Fund at the TraRon Center. The funds support programs for children affected by gun violence in the D.C. area, connecting them with art, after-school programs and therapeutic coping methods.
The fund raised $95,500 as of Friday.
A link to the fund can be found at https://bit.ly/36d33NY.
Jeff and Barbara said the fund is personal, because their grandsons Miles and Alex have been victims of gun violence, too.
“Everything is hard about this,” Jeff said. “The hardest part is to see those boys. Healthy, young, and they’re just obliterated.”
Jeff said he’s keeping himself busy with mowing and housework.
“I don’t let myself stop,” he said, so he doesn’t fall apart.
Barbara and Jeff traveled to D.C. last week for a funeral service and will return in a few weeks for a second one. They were asked how they’ve dealt with the unexpected grieving.
“I can show you,” Jeff said. “Just one foot in front of the other.”
And he took six small, shaky steps.