Eight-year-old Martin “Marty” Cobb and his 12-year-old sister had a special bond. They were by all accounts inseparable as siblings, best friends and playmates.
“They were never apart,” said the Rev. Theodore L. Hughey, the pastor at Abundant Life Church of God in Christ, the family’s church. They would ride bikes and big wheelers together, play side by side with children in their South Side neighborhood and brag about their mother’s fine down-home cooking, he told the Free Press.
Marty had a special affinity for keys of any type, the pastor added. In a tragic event that has captured the nation’s heart, Marty now is being fondly remembered as a courageous hero. Local and national media are telling the heart-rending story of how Marty died May 1, while bravely trying to protect his beloved sister from a sexual predator as they played around noon near railroad tracks behind the family’s home in the 200 block of Brandon Road.
A 16-year-old boy has been arrested and charged with Marty’s murder and the attack on his sister, who survived. She is recovering at a local hospital.
Marty died from severe head trauma, police later reported. Neighbors reported the attacker struck Marty in the head with a brick. A few days following his death, about 200 family members, friends, neighbors and other community members somberly gathered outside Abundant Life to honor the endearing child with the small frame, indomitable spirit and warm, loving smile.
Prior to the vigil, loved ones assembled around a sign in Marty’s yard that read: “Martin: A real hero lived, fought and died here.”
“Little Marty is a hero,” stated City Council member Reva M. Trammell, who spoke at the vigil and represents the 8th District where the grieving family lives. “He was there when his sister needed him the most,” she added in response to a Free Press query. “Marty’s beautiful smile and his love for his sister will always be with us. Marty will always be in our hearts, and he will never, ever be forgotten.”
Charles Willis, executive director of the Citizens Against Crime group that has helped lead vigils for more than 20 years in the city, said the turnout reflects a caring community.
“Even though a crisis of this nature happens, this shows the strength of not only the city, but of the community,” Mr. Willis said. “When trouble comes to any community, we will respond in a positive fashion.”
He described Marty’s mother, Sharain Spruill, as “very, very, very upset as well as hurt and trying to wrap her mind aroundwhy this happened her son.”
Major Steve Drew, who directs Support Services with the Richmond Police Department, praised neighborhood residents for providing information that resulted in the quick arrest.
“The community really came together to seek justice for little Marty, the hero,” he said. Police said Marty’s sister first reported the attacker to be a White male, but later recanted and identified a black, 16-year-old neighbor as the attacker. She told police the teenager had threatened to hurt her if she told on him.
It has been reported the suspect’s name is Mariese Washington. He has a history of violent behavior that includes a 2010 attack in the Mosby Court housing community on a 3-year-old boy. He hit the boy in the back of the head with a hammer.
The attack required the child to receive 100 staples and a metal plate in his head. The boy has spent four years in recovery, according to his family. The alleged killer of Marty was to make his first appearance in Richmond Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court on Monday in front of Judge Ashley K. Tunner.
Authorities have declined to identify the suspect because he’s a minor. Prosecutor Mary Langer stated in response to a Free Press query that she and Chris Bullard of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office are trying the case. She said the 16 year-old suspect will be tried as an adult for first degree murder, but will not face the death penalty. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled the execution of juveniles violates the Constitution.
“A murder charge against a juvenile who is 14 years or older is subject to automatic certification treatment (as an adult),” Ms. Langer stated. “There is no discretion or choice for the judge.”
Those in the tight-knit South Side neighborhood where Marty’s family lives are determined to make sure his heroic actions are remembered. They have organized an online petition directed to the White House to have Marty recognized by President Obama for his heroic act.
A fund for the family has been established at Wells Fargo bank called the “Keys for Marty Foundation.” Donations can be made at any Wells Fargo branch.
Marty’s funeral was held May 9 at Mimms Funeral Home in Richmond.
“This young child has awakened a nation that has turned their back on the children!” the Rev. Hughey declared at the funeral of the young hero. “We need to end the war on our most precious gifts, our children...This young man, this little child, this giant that God put in this time has brought us together to say to him, ‘Martin, we will honor your memory now.'"