Before her death was held up as the latest example of the violence gripping north Minneapolis, she was a beloved mother and grandmother whose house was the scene of family Sunday dinners.
Before her name was scrawled in red marker next to the city’s other unsolved slayings on a dry erase board in the police department’s Homicide Unit, people knew her only as “Fludder.”
Birdell Beeks did not come home on Thursday after a gunman or gunmen opened fire on a blue minivan that she and her teenage granddaughter were sitting in. She doted on her family, but relatives insisted that her generosity extended to the rest of the North Side community she had called home throughout her life.
“She was kind of known as your big momma on the block,” said her nephew, Anthijuan Beeks, a former Minneapolis police officer.
He was still trying to make sense of the death of a woman who took him and his sister in as teenagers after their mother was murdered.
“She basically stepped in; she was my aunt, but she was also my momma,” he said. “That was the first thing that came to my mind: I lost my second mom.”
Police have provided few details about the shooting beyond saying that it appeared Beeks was an innocent victim caught in someone else’s deadly argument.
Police and witnesses say it wasn’t clear whether Beeks, sitting behind the wheel with her 16-year-old granddaughter, even had a chance to react when the gunfire started. She was taken to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, where she died of her wounds.
Homicide detectives so far haven’t ruled out any possibilities in her death, including witness statements that the shooting had been in response to an unsettled debt, and that the shooter or shooters were targeting a tan sedan that was seen fleeing the scene at the corner of Penn and 21st avenues N. Several suspects were hauled downtown to be interviewed, but as of Friday afternoon, no one had been charged in connection with the crime.
Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau said in a statement Friday that the department has placed “every additional resource into the areas plagued by gun violence that we can,” and that she would put 12 extra officers on the streets in the Fourth Precinct over the next few weeks.
Neighborhoods held hostage
At a City Council meeting Friday, President Barbara Johnson said the killing was an example of the unchecked violence now holding some neighborhoods “hostage.”
“It’s absolutely unacceptable. We’ve got groups of younger people that are out of control,” she said. “It was only a matter of time before there was a fatality in this latest uptick [in violence].”
Several council members have raised concerns in recent weeks about whether the police department has an overarching strategy for taming the gun violence, particularly as the weather warms up. Harteau said that police would work quickly to find those responsible and bring them to justice.
“As we continue to work aggressively to address our increase in gun violence, one of my greatest concerns has been realized; people with no regard for the lives of those in our community taking the life of an innocent bystander. This is intolerable and unacceptable,” her statement said.
The chief, who had been out of town the past few days for a national policing conference, will hold an emergency meeting this weekend with police and community leaders to discuss the violence.
In roughly the first five months of the year, 123 people have been shot in Minneapolis — 97 of them on the North Side — compared with 65 during the same period last year. Meanwhile, aggravated assaults, which include shootings and are considered a key measure of a city’s safety, are up 14 percent citywide. On Thursday, at least three other people were shot across Minneapolis.
‘Brimming with life’
Police have attributed the surge in North Side crime to an escalating gang war between the North Side’s “High-End” and “Low-End” gang factions — the “Highs” in the northern half of north Minneapolis, and the “Lows” in the southern half.
Beeks’ daughter wrote in a Facebook post Friday that Beeks “had come through many storms from diabetes to kidney failure to most recently cancer!”
She continued: “But my Mother did not deserve to die at the hands of ignorance in the streets.”
A vigil is planned for this weekend, relatives said, and the funeral is likely to be held next week.
As a steady rain fell Friday morning, a woman with an umbrella stopped to pay her respects, standing over a drenched teddy bear lying near the spot where Beeks was shot. The woman, who identified herself only as a friend of Beeks, said that she couldn’t yet bring herself to talk about the tragedy. Anthijuan Beeks, who resigned from the police force last fall to start a youth outreach program called Face2Face, said that on many Sundays their family would gather at his aunt’s house for a soul food dinner: The aroma of fried chicken, greens, macaroni and cheese, upside down pineapple cake and peach cobbler would greet him as he walked through the door. Even on the days he couldn’t make it, she would always set aside a heaping plate of food for him.
“She was just a dynamic cook,” he said. “She was from the old school; she knew how to make a meal stretch.”
Beeks worked a variety of jobs during her life, from secretary to medical assistant. Even at 59, she was still brimming with life, he said.
Birdell Beeks is survived by three children and three grandchildren, her nephew said, all of whom knew her by her nickname, “Fludder Butter.”
“I don’t think it had any type of meaning or significant meaning to it — it just rhymed,” he said. “I just know that she responded to it.”
Staff writers Erin Golden and Liz Sawyer contributed to this report.