A 19-year-old Brockton youth ticketed for stardom in the pop music world was gunned down yesterday morning as he sat in his car at the housing project he had escaped when he began his recording career.
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Christopher Bender was shot at 2:20 a.m. yesterday as he sat behind the wheel of his Mercedes Benz in front of the Crescent Court apartments where he grew up and where his mother still lives.
A family member said Bender was hit by seven bullets, but police would only say he was struck by more than one.
Police said Bender was sitting in his car with his 17-year-old cousin, Jessie Starks, when three hooded gunmen approached the car and opened fire. The gunmen fled on foot. Bender was brought to Brockton Hospital, where he died a short time later. Starks was not injured in the attack.
Police said last night they had few clues about the shooting and no suspects. State Police and Brockton homicide detectives were investigating and would not release any further information.
Bender, who was known as Chris, dropped out of high school in his junior year to pursue a singing career, according to his aunt, Bobbie Starks. In 1989, at the age of 16, he recorded an album for Epic Records called “Baby Doll” and released a single by the same name. Both the album and the single met with limited success, but Bender apparently showed enough promise to draw the attention of several other music industry officials.
Earlier this year, Bender signed a major recording contract with a subsidiary of Atlantic Records for a number of albums. The deal was for a reported seven-album, $500,000 contract. His second album, entitled “Draped,” was released in July by Atlantic’s East West Records America and the album broke onto the rhythm and blues chart in Billboard Magazine.
He recorded music videos for some of the songs on the album, and several music networks had begun playing them. Bender was to leave next week for Atlanta to begin work on a new album, his aunt said.
“All his life that was his dream — to become a singer,” Bobbie Starks said yesterday.
Starks said Bender, who had just returned from an engagement two weeks ago in North Carolina, had been visiting some friends Saturday night in the housing project. Starks said Bender, who had moved to Waltham, had returned to his mother’s house with Jessie Starks for a bowl of ice cream and then went to sit in the car. Shortly thereafter, the nighttime silence was broken by gunfire and Chris Bender’s rise from the projects came to an abrupt end.
While Starks said her nephew, who was the youngest of six children, had had several “minor” encounters with police while he was growing up, she said he was not involved with drugs and doubted the shooting was related to drugs. Police would not comment on Bender.
“He was a nice kid. He was brought up in church,” Starks said. “Chris is not into drugs.”
Starks said that the Crescent Court housing project has been a haven for drug dealers and that the atmosphere for children growing up in that environment was dangerous. She said her family and other neighbors have been calling police for months about random violence and drug dealing to no avail. Starks said her nephew’s shooting was “not uncommon for Crescent Court.”
“This has been going on for about two months, kids coming in and threatening other kids with guns, terrorizing everybody,” Starks said. “I feel like if the police had done their job, Chris would have been alive.”
Lenny Banks, whose wife grew up next door to the Benders, said the Crescent Court project has devolved into a threatening environment, describing it as “kind of rough” for children.
“Since the summer, on the average at least twice a week you’ll hear shots being fired down here,” said Banks, 32. A bail bondsman in Brockton, Banks said he sees many youths whose older brothers and siblings were able to rise above their environment, but he said the neighborhood is a much tougher one to escape now.
“Most of the time he stayed to himself,” Banks said of Bender. “He was into his music. He used to sing when all the other kids used to play ball.”
Banks said Bender had dreams of making it big in the music world and helping his family move out of Crescent Court.
In addition to singing on his recent tour, Bender had performed and recorded in California, New York and Washington. Officials for Atlantic Records could not be reached for comment last night. Bender’s manager in Boston, Terryl Calloway, was also unavailable for comment.
Neither success nor tragedy is new to the family, according to Bobbie Starks. Several years ago, Bender’s oldest brother, Frankie, also had a recording contract. While his singing career failed to take hold, Starks said he has become a successful songwriter for other artists.
In early June, Damien Price, 20, Bender’s cousin, was shot and killed in an argument with a youth on a street near where Bender died. Another cousin was wounded in a shooting last year, Starks said.
But those who knew him said Bender was determined not to end up like his cousins. He was good and talented, and he was beginning to cash in on his abilities, they said.
How good and how successful could Bender have been? “We’ll never know, will we?” Banks said. “Nothing’s guaranteed in this life I guess.”
Bender leaves his parents, Betty Anne and Andrew Sr.; three sisters, Carla Suzette, Melissa and Kimberly; two brothers, Frankie and Andrew Jr.; and a daughter, Chanelle