Ieesha Rajab tries to stay positive. Her conversation is peppered with laughter; she doesn't want to bring everyone around her down, and reminds friends and family to remember the good things. She recalls many details about her son Ciquann Dudley, Jr., but one thing eludes her.
“The only thing I can’t get is his voice, I just miss it. That laugh, I can’t hear it in my memories. I can’t hear it," she said, her voice soft, almost a whisper.
“That little boy, he’s a force. And that voice of his. He talked all the time, telling jokes. And he laughed, it’s like a cackle.”
Dudley, who was 17, was killed in McKeesport in June. He was the second Allegheny County youth killed in a homicide in 2019.
But he was also a vivacious, friendly teen, with a big toothy grin.
“Sweet. He was just the sweetest,” Rajab said. “Like, always a bright smile.”
He had been that way since birth, she said. From a very young age, Dudley was always dancing -- all while wearing one glove.
“One glove, one hand,” she said, “and nobody could figure out why.”
He also loved to draw and doodle in coloring books. "Even the older he got, he said it relaxes him," Rajab said.
His friend Diangelise Soules, also 17, can remember when she met Dudley. She called him C.J., a nickname. Some friends also called him Quann.
“We just clicked,” she said. “He was someone who you could talk to, someone who you could rely on," Soules said.
She said he was always smiling, “he had a mouth full of teeth.” He was goofy in that way.
He was also giving, recalled Soules' younger sister, Desirae, 10. The sisters remembering him visiting and insisting on buying them whatever they wanted from the store.
"He was like, 'I'm paying for it, like get whatever you want,'” Diangelise said.
Rajab said Dudley wanted to join the Army after high school. He was inspired by a family friend who had been in the military.
“He looked up to him. [The family friend] liked to draw, animation, it was like they had that connection with the art,” Rajab said. “He just went into the Army, he got all big and he was telling him about the training and how he was in Hawaii and now he lives in Alaska.”
It would have afforded Dudley the opportunity to leave McKeesport and travel. He had taken ROTC classes at McKeesport High School to make that dream a reality.
Dudley would have started his senior year of high school this month. Rajab said he had technically been in 10th grade when he died, but had missed some school and was doing credit for his junior year at the same time, in order to graduate on time.
But Rajab was doing everything she could to make sure he was on track for his final year, while still letting him enjoy being a teen.
“I wanted him to graduate on time, without no summer school, just enjoy your summer, go to 12th grade. And I fought, fought, fought,” she said with a laugh. “He was going to 12th grade.”
Though Rajab smiles while sharing memories of her son, her home has become a sad place
"I look out my window, I can see where they found his body," she said.
She's currently packing up her apartment and looking for a new place to live.
"I just need to grieve," she said. "I want to be able to move away and stand on my porch and not feel as though the person who did this who could be right there, right outside playing basketball, you know what I mean ... I am dying on the inside, but you gotta make it work."
Dudley would have been 18 years old today. Rajab plans to hold a feast with family members, including Dudley’s father and younger brother. They’re going to make all of his favorite foods: lasagna, stuffed salmon, shrimp, chitlins and more.
“Just something to celebrate his birthday,” Rajab said. “Something that I know he would probably love.”
Afterwards, they’ll send lanterns and balloons into the sky, and light candles spelling out his name: Ciquann.