It was early Saturday, July 13, and Steven Lamont Hackney was due to get on a 2 a.m. bus bound for Erie. Almost exactly a year before, in 2012, he made the same trip, for his 4-year-old daughter's birthday party.
"I'm at the bus station," the text from 2012 reads, noted Hackney's longtime love, Rosie Ruiz.
But there would be no such message from Hackney in 2013. Hackney would never arrive in Erie as planned or even make it on the bus, because about 1 a.m. that day, the 37-year-old father of three was shot to death in his Walnut Avenue home.
Murder victim Steven Hackney sits with his
daughters Quina (left), 11, and Amani. Amani looked at her mom before Christmas and said, “I miss daddy. Why did the bad people hurt him?” Hackney’s
murder remains unsolved.
"I'm mad at myself," said Ruiz, who had two daughters with Hackney during a 10-year relationship before the two separated in 2011. "I should have had the party on Saturday. He wouldn't have been [in Altoona at the time of the shooting]."
Hackney's murder remains unsolved, and while Altoona police said detectives continue to work the case, to those who love Hackney, the waiting is hard.
"My oldest [daughter] said to me, 'Mom, I hope they catch them and I want to be there to tell them what they took from me,'" Ruiz said of the couple's daughter, Quina Hackney, who turns 12 later this month.
Ruiz said two days before Christmas, the couple's youngest, Amani Rose Hackney, looked at her and told her, "My heart hurts so bad," prompting Ruiz to ask the little girl why?
"I miss daddy," she said. "Why did the bad people hurt him?"
It's a question that Altoona police continue to try to answer. Because it is an open investigation, police declined to discuss the details, and detectives would only say they were awaiting information about certain aspects of the case but expected it to move forward.
"We anticipate making arrests and bringing the case to a close," said Sgt. Matthew DePaolis.
A search warrant served in the case indicated when police arrived at 124 Walnut St. at 1:05 a.m. July 13, the door was ajar and money was scattered on the floor of the downstairs. Police found Hackney in an upstairs bedroom, dead with a neck wound and face down in a pool of blood, his Apple iPhone in his hand. Bullet casings were on the floor near his body and a closet door had a bullet hole in it, police noted.
A Samsung flip phone was found outside in a gravel parking area behind the home. A 911 caller reported hearing three gunshots and seeing three men running from the area down the alley.
Ruiz noted Hackney's iPhone was password protected and had to be sent off to Apple to be accessed, but because of a backlog at the company, the phone wasn't sent until November.
"That's crazy; this is a homicide investigation," said Ruiz of the time it took to get the phone sent out.
Ruiz said there are people who know what happened to Hackney, who she refers to as her husband, and she hopes police can track them down and get them to talk.
Ruiz said she learned from a friend of Hackney's that a woman was in the house around the time of the shooting and police have been interviewing people about that night.
"There's information," Ruiz said. "There are names out there."
An Erie native, Ruiz met Hackney in 2001, when she was a junior at Penn State Altoona. He was a Washington, D.C., native who lived in Altoona because his daughter from a previous relationship, Qaya Rolley, was here.
Ruiz remembers he was persistent at trying to get her to go out on a date. She thought he was funny, even if he was "drenched in cologne," and soon that first date blossomed into a decadelong romance.
Ruiz said the two were estranged, but he was a wonderful father to his children. She spoke with him every other day, he visited with the girls in May and the couple was on the road to reconciling when he was shot.
Hackney is no stranger to Altoona police, or shootings for that matter, having been a fugitive for three years before he was finally arrested in Erie in 2009 on attempted homicide charges dating back to a 2005 shooting near Fourth Avenue and Fifth Street. Police accused Hackney, who along with several other men was embroiled in feud of sorts with a group of rivals, with shooting Brian O'Rorke the night of Oct. 11, 2005. After pleading guilty to aggravated assault and criminal mischief, Hackney was sentenced to 11 1/2 months to 231/2 months in Blair County Prison.
"How he got caught up in that lifestyle, I'll never know," said Hackney's father, Gregory Hackney, of Washington, D.C. "Even though what went down and what people thought of him that didn't know him, he was basically a good guy. If they ever took the time to talk to him, they would know he had a good heart."
Leo Springs, 35, who grew up with Hackney in Washington said the shooting in 2005 had less to do with Hackney than the people he was hanging out with.
"It wasn't his beef; it was his friend who had the issues," Springs said of the simmering tensions that led to the 2005 shooting. Springs said Hackney didn't talked about the incident, and when he last saw Hackney in 2012 during a visit with a childhood friend in Altoona, Hackney didn't mention having any problems with anyone.
Springs said Hackney told him the guys he had trouble with in 2005 were not around, that they were back in New York or in prison, but Springs said he wonders if his friend's murder isn't somehow connected.
"Some people don't let stuff go," Springs said.
Somebody in Altoona knows what happened, but Springs said he is skeptical police are giving the case the attention it deserves.
When asked if Steven Hackney was involved in something illegal, Springs said he didn't know.
"When I was up [to Altoona], I didn't see none of that," Springs said.
Police said "a large sum of money" was found scattered in the home's dining room at the stairs below where police found Hackney shot, but it raises more questions than answers. Police said last week the amount of money found amounted only to a couple of hundred dollars. If Hackney was killed in a home invasion robbery, Springs asked, then why was the money found on the floor not taken?
If Hackney did have a large amount of money on him, meaning thousands, that was stolen, then Springs said "he had to be doing something" that caught someone's attention.
"If he had that much money on him, I know he didn't make it working at McDonald's," Springs said.
Springs said whatever the reason, he's convinced the murder was intentional.
"I just think they wanted him dead," Springs said.
Whoever killed Steven Hackney knew where he was staying and, Springs believes, knew he was leaving that night. It was a trip Springs said his friend had said would be one-way.
"He was going to stay up there, in Erie," Springs said. "He was leaving Altoona."
Gregory Hackney said he is keeping his faith in God that police will find his son's killer.
"It's hard," Gregory Hackney said of his son's murder, something he said the family avoids talking about because it remains too painful.
Hackney's father remembers his son as a quiet kid who went to church, got straight As in school and was close to his paternal grandparents, who helped raise him.
"All parents say their kids were good," Gregory Hackney said. "He was. He was a very good father. Those girls, they loved their daddy. Say what you want. There are some good parts. I know he is really missed. I try not to talk about it and let God handle it and pray they'll find these persons who did this. All I can do is pray."
Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.