City of Vilomah

City of Vilomah

A pair of Syracuse parents who lost their sons at a young age grapple with grief in the age of gun violence.
Published: August 5, 2019 | Updated: March 6th, 2020 at 2:25 pm

City of Vilomah explores the lives and grieving process of Rhonda Cook and Clifford Ryan – two parents who lost their sons at a young age to gun violence in the city of Syracuse.

Their sons, Niko Santana and Duriel Ryan, were killed almost 20 years apart. Rhonda, who lost Niko in 2018, is consumed by grief while Clifford, who lost Duriel in 1999, has turned his anger and sadness into the activism group OG’s Against Gun Violence.

“Vilomah” is a term first used by Duke University professor Karla Holloway to define a parent whose child has died, originating from the Sanskrit language. Though there are other words like “widow” and “orphan” to define family members left behind, there is not currently a word in the English language that defines a parent whose child has passed before them. Holloway looked to Sanskrit because the term “widow” originates from this language.

Niko at seven months old.

Niko Raul Santana

Niko was 18 years old when he was shot in the bedroom of his family’s Shonnard Street home in Syracuse’s west side community just after 6 p.m. Niko died later that night at SUNY Upstate University Hospital.

Niko was survived by his parents, Rhonda Cook and Scott Hayden; sisters, Tiffiney, Krystal and Lexus; brothers, Kirt, Eddy, Cesar and Gregory.

Niko at seven months old. Photo courtesy of Rhonda Cook.

City of Vilomah - Niko - News Article
Niko and the article from The Post-Standard the day after he was killed.

Duriel Lamar Ryan

Duriel was 17 years old when he was shot and killed in broad daylight near the corner of West Newell and Cannon streets. Duriel had been shot to the back of the head with a sawed-off shotgun and was killed instantly.

Duriel was survived by his parents, Clifford Ryan and Tammy Graham Armstrong; sisters, Tamara Ryan and Keziah Armstrong; brothers, Jihad Ryan, Clifford Ryan Jr., Rashad Graham, Shakin Graham, Elonzia Armstrong and Terrel Gordon.

Duriel (left in the photo) at 5 years old. Photo courtesy of Clifford Ryan.

Duriel (Left) at 5 years old.
City of Vilomah - Duriel - News Article
The Post-Standard article the day after Duriel was killed. Note: Clifford and Duriel Ryan were misspelled as “Ryans” in the above article.
Homicides in Syracuse between Niko and Duriel's deaths
2018 Syracuse Homicide Victims by Age
2018 Syracuse Homicides by Type

Fighting the violence

In 2015, Clifford Ryan founded OG’s Against Gun Violence, a community outreach and activism organization that aims to interrupt and reduce violent crime and homicide around Syracuse.

On a day-to-day basis, Clifford is out walking the streets of Syracuse’s lower-income neighborhoods, speaking with children at other community organizations and after-school programs, and organizing vigils and walks for victims and their families.

Since its inception, Clifford’s organization has grown to the point that it’s considered a staple of the Syracuse community.

City of Vilomah - OG
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is a contributor to The NewsHouse at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.