She had seen the light in his room come on earlier that night shortly after she turned in, and -- believing him to be home -- she had drifted off. After what happened to her older brother Anthony Jr., eight years earlier, Sergio had to be home, safe in bed, before she could feel good going to bed.
"I just couldn't sleep until I made sure everybody was in the house," Nichole said. "Everybody had to be home for me to sleep. My mother was the same way. I knew that if Sergio was in the house, we could rest a little easier.
"I wasn't OK until I knew he was OK."
But Sergio hadn't come home. The light she'd seen in his room had been turned on by their mother. And her younger -- and last -- brother, was far from OK.
The former Westside High School star running back was struggling for his life. He had been rushed to Medical College of Georgia Hospital by friends in the car he'd been driving. He had been shot multiple times in the parking lot of the McDonald's restaurant on Deans Bridge Road about 2:30 that morning.
Twenty minutes later, an emergency room physician, Dr. Steve Shriver, pronounced him dead.
Sergio Campbell, 22, was Richmond County's second homicide victim of the year. The man charged in his slaying, 21-year-old Harry Lee Jones, was indicted in April.
Because the case is awaiting trial, authorities won't confirm whether Jones and Campbell knew each other. But in terms of who is likely to wind up a victim of homicide in Augusta, and those charged with committing the offense, the two had much in common.
They were young.
They were men.
They were black.
From 2005 to present, 70 percent of Richmond County's 124 homicide victims (including an unborn child) were black, according to a database created by The Augusta Chronicle . Of those victims, 57 percent were black and male.
Paralleling those numbers: 82 percent of the suspects arrested and charged in the homicides were black. Seventy-eight percent of those suspects were black and male, most between 16 and 25 years old.
Augusta is not alone in the high rate of black homicides. The latest FBI data on murders shows that blacks comprised 48 percent of the homicide victims nationally in 2008, despite being less than 13 percent of the population.
More black males between the ages of 15 and 34 die from murder than any other cause, according to 2006 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Homicide was the second-leading cause of death for black females ages 15-24.
Those numbers tell just part of the story. The emotional impact reaches far beyond family and friends.
There are those who come in contact with the victim shortly after the crime, giving families the bad news or helping them try to make sense of it. Then there are those who didn't know the victim, but whose death touched something inside that prompted them to action.
In the 20 years that Dr. Michael Hawkins has been chief of MCG's trauma unit, the type of weapon used is what has changed the most about the homicide victims. In the past it frequently was .22- or .25-caliber handguns; now it's more likely to be a 9 mm, with the victim shot multiple times.
He couldn't recall how many times he has been the attending physician of a homicide victim, but a cursory check of police incident reports shows he has pronounced dead at least four since 2005 -- Michael Anthony Francis on Jan. 4, 2005; Daphne Foster on Sept. 27, 2005; Jason Harrington on May 28, 2006; and Darryl Lamar Walden on Aug. 17, 2009.
All four were black, a commonality that Hawkins is aware of and on which he offers a blunt assessment: "Every city has identified what you have already found, young black males shooting young black males. It's not the Ku Klux Klan."
Hawkins has little sympathy for those who might have been involved in some criminal activity that ended in MCG's emergency room. It's harsh, but it's his way of dealing with the senselessness of lives snuffed out far too soon.
"I'll tell you up front and honest, when a guy's on drugs and gets shot by someone who's on drugs or selling drugs, that's bad, two wrongs don't make a right, I understand that. But I don't get real emotional or take that to heart," Hawkins said. "The person who's working at the gas station or 7-Eleven, or the person that's shot by mistake because somebody says he looks like Johnny and turns out to be somebody totally different, that strikes me different."
Having handled so many of these cases, Hawkins knows pretty much how it's going to play out in the emergency room. Immediate family members such as the mother, father, wife or husband are culled from the rest. If the patient is still alive, but on life support and not likely to make it, the family has an ethical decision to make. If the loved one didn't survive, they are told so -- immediately.
"And there's no easy way to tell that to them: 'I want you to know that -- if we know the name -- has been shot and when he got here, he was not awake and we worked with him the best we could but we were unable to save him,' " Hawkins said, describing how he breaks the news. "To drag it out, you know, doesn't really help them because they want to know. Cut to the chase. 'Is it going to be OK?'
"No, he's gone."
There's almost always anger, someone in the family threatening to seek revenge. Hawkins said he tries to calm things down, letting them know that "we don't need anything else."
If he is able to tell the family that their loved one didn't suffer, he will. That, Hawkins said, seems to ease the pain some.
Most times it takes about 10 minutes to deliver the news and make sure the family fully comprehends what's going on. Often, family members already know before he says anything.
"When they see you coming, they know," Hawkins said. "They know it's going to be bad news. They've been called into the hospital by the police or somebody they know. ... And we come out, and of course we're not smiling."
Maintaining an emotional distance isn't always easy. Some cases stay with him, he admits.
"When it's a kid, when we do get some true accidents, when it's like that girl you mentioned who was not the intended victim, yeah, that's hard," Hawkins said.
"We've had pregnant women shot, and not only the woman, then the baby dies. The baby didn't do anything to deserve that, and sometimes neither did the mother.
"Most of what we see are not true innocent victims, but we do have some true innocent victims based on everything we hear. And those are harder to deal with emotionally.
"It's not easy, and I hope it never becomes easy."
Like Hawkins, the Rev. Larry Fryer's involvement often comes at the end. He estimates he has officiated at probably a dozen funerals involving homicide victims.
All were black. Most were much too young.
He has preached about black-on-black violence for as long as he can remember. He said he would like to see his community get as upset over one of their own taking the life of a "brother" or "sister" as they do when they feel wronged by others.
He offered two examples to illustrate his point: the slaying of Shawndrel Horton on June 11, 2009, and the fatal shooting of Justin Elmore on Dec. 14, 2008.
Both happened at Cherry Tree Crossing public housing complex. The difference: Elmore was shot and killed by Richmond County sheriff's deputies, while the person indicted in killing the 18-year-old Horton was a 17-year-old black male.
Elmore's shooting -- eventually determined by a grand jury to be justified as officers testified he tried to run one of them over as they attempted to check his vehicle for drugs -- caused a near riot, drew protests from the New Black Panther Party about police brutality and brought civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton to speak at the funeral.
Beyond the anguish of family and friends, Horton's slaying -- she was shot point blank in the neck after an argument -- stirred little public reaction.
"(Shawndrel's mother) sat right here," Fryer said, pointing to a chair in his house. "I was there and a friend. We could not control her. She was so upset and so hurt. When that happened with her, I said, wait a minute, where's the SCLC now, where's Al Sharpton, where's the New Black Panther Party, where are all these people now?"
It's different officiating at the funeral of someone who died a natural death and someone who died a senseless one, Fryer said. In the former, the family might have expected it and the words delivered at the funeral deal with remembrance of the person's life. The goal of the latter is trying to prevent more unnecessary tragedy.
He sought to do this when he officiated the funeral of a second cousin, Stedmond Fryer, who was gunned down on the dance floor of the Super C's nightclub in the early-morning hours of July 9, 2007, after a fight. Stedmond and the man convicted of shooting him, Darion McNair, were both 18.
"I touched on his life and what he was, but then I talked about all the senseless violence that was going on," Fryer said. "I talked about how the African-American male is almost an endangered species because of the high homicide rate. I talked about the need for a stronger family structure because not having it is leading to this sort of violence."
As a minister, Fryer said, he has learned to maintain a certain detachment in these cases so as to better assist the family in distress. But one homicide 13 years ago still sticks with him today.
It was Easter Sunday 1997, and it turned out to be one of the deadliest days in Augusta history. Three killings -- along with several other shootings -- were committed that March 30. Perhaps the bloodiest one took the life of 25-year-old Robert Law. Richmond County Coroner Leroy Sims said Law had been shot 15 times -- five in the head.
Fryer knew Law's mother and father well. They were members of Trinity Christian Methodist Episcopal Church when he was pastor. The family was planning to celebrate Law's upcoming birthday, and his mother was baking a cake.
When Fryer got the call about Law's shooting, he said he went to the hospital, turned the sheets back so he could look at Law and was horrified by what he saw.
"Let me tell you something. Those bullets were from down the leg all up his body to his head. They executed that boy," Fryer said. "They shot that boy up so bad. ... That thing bothered me. I cried myself.
"I was affected by that thing because his daddy was traumatized. And, you talk about having to be a pastor. I had to really talk to that man and console and meet with him. But that has stuck with me, even right now, and I get chills talking to you about it. Because it was so mean. It was so mean."
No one ever was arrested in Law's death. However, a man killed in a shootout a couple of weeks later -- Frank Willie Burton Jr. -- had a gun on him that authorities determined was used in Law's killing. One of the men who confronted Burton outside a Waffle House on Deans Bridge Road that night of April 13 -- Martise Williams -- was a cousin of Law.
Burton was 21 when he was killed. Gregory Gordon, the man who pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of involuntary manslaughter in the shooting, was 19.
"Dr. (Martin Luther) King did say this, in so many words, 'Either we will live together as brothers or die together as fools,' " Fryer said. "If we continue in the way we're going, we're going to be dying together as fools."
Stopping the dying has become Joey Traina's mission. It took the slaying of someone he had never met to lead him to this realization.
Daniel McGee, 21, worked two jobs to support himself. He cared for his disabled uncle at his Bon Air apartment. In the early morning of Dec. 9, 2008, McGee was bicycling back to the apartment after going to a nearby grocery store for his uncle when he encountered two teens in search of trouble. Broderick Tavares Williams, 16, and Tavaris Lanard Samuels, 18, wanted McGee's gold Jesus necklace. He resisted. He was shot in the head.
The killing happened in the 1900 block of Starnes Street in the Harrisburg community, only a few blocks from where Traina grew up. A candlelight vigil and peace rally for McGee that he attended the next month got him thinking about what he could do to stop the violence.
"Maybe my eyes were much more open at the time," said Traina, 22. "At first people weren't sure whether he was in a gang or whether he was attacked by a gang as part of some sort of retaliation. In my mind, I just wanted to know. And then in the end, come to find that he was a very caring person and we really did lose a productive citizen that night. I wanted to know exactly what happened because it was so close to where I grew up, and what could we do to prevent this."
In February two youths attacked Traina's younger brother, Joshua, as he walked the four blocks from his home on Fenwick Street to his mother's house. Traina put his plans into motion, starting Peace on the Streets, a project to curb gang activity and poverty, the latter of which he considers the root cause of youth violence.
"If all we do is just make somebody think about what they're going to do before they do it, or make a group of people interested in nonviolence in their area is all we do, then I find it a success," he said. "So long as there's violence, I think we have cause to be pushing our message of nonviolence."
One family's grief
One of the people who has reached out to Traina is Nichole Campbell.
"Her story is just another example of how tragic it is," he said.
Anthony and Linda Campbell have lost their only two sons to homicide, and they have lost a close family friend whom Nichole calls "an uncle."
Their oldest son, Anthony Jr., was fatally wounded April 21, 2002, at his Summerville apartment by Rufus Owens Jr., who was upset that Anthony Jr. had dropped off his girlfriend's daughter -- who Owens claimed was ill -- at a slumber party he was hosting. Anthony Campbell Jr. was 26.
Three years later, Tyrone Ramsey, the family friend, would be killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Ramsey, 42, and a friend were walking on Jefferson Drive when they happened to witness a home invasion. The robbers chased the two down, shot and killed Ramsey, and wounded his friend.
The Campbells never got to see the legal system provide justice in either case.
Owens, who was indicted on murder charges and was out on bond, was killed in an automobile accident on Georgia Highway 56 on March 30, 2003, when he lost control of his SUV.
Telly Lee Gardner, 29, whom authorities identified as Ramsey's killer, died in jail of cancer on Dec. 27, 2007, while awaiting trial.
Sergio Campbell's alleged shooter is scheduled for trial June 28. According to Richmond County sheriff's Capt. Scott Peebles, there had been problems between Sergio and at least one of the men in the car from which the fatal shots were fired. Shots had been fired earlier that night at the car Sergio was driving, he said. Peebles wouldn't say whether anyone in Sergio's car fired a shot during the confrontation at McDonald's, but he did say a gun was found in the vehicle.
Nichole, who has been the family's spokeswoman because her parents are unable to discuss the slaying, said her brother was a good guy who worked two jobs. He also was well aware of the family's concerns about his safety, particularly after Anthony Jr.'s death.
Nichole and her sister Christi talked to Sergio about it in November. It was the first time they'd had this sort of conversation with him.
"We can't go through losing anybody else again," Nichole said they told him. "That took a toll on our whole family. We just felt like we can't lose anybody else. Us three, that's all we got."
On April 3, Nichole led friends and family in a peace rally to celebrate the lives of her two brothers and speak about the consequences of street violence. Between 50 and 75 people, many wearing shirts imprinted with the brothers' pictures, turned up at Big Oak Park on Wheeler Road.
Sergio and Anthony Jr. are buried next to each other at her church's cemetery outside North Augusta. She comes frequently, often to change flowers. Her goal is to prevent others from having to make similar visits.
"I will talk to anybody to tell them my story," Nichole said. "I've lost two brothers and Tyrone, who was like an uncle to us. All these cases are all similar. Somebody with a gun who opened fire on them."