Christopher Bugembe’s family loved him, but his reentry to society after a prison sentence in 2017 came with some anxiety.
His past legal issues put the family through a lot, and they knew he would need help getting back on his feet.
But his oldest daughter, Tavia Bugembe, just wanted her dad back.
At 13, she never lived with him before, but knew he was a good father. Just before his release, she told him something that probably helped turn his life around: she wanted to move from Memphis to Milwaukee to live with him.
Once he was released, Christopher Bugembe went right down to Memphis to get her and her siblings. From there on, his sisters and brother said, his priorities changed. There was a calm about him they hadn’t noticed before. He said he was tired of the lifestyle he lived previously. He matured.
“The focus completely shifted from the street to his kids,” his sister, Amber Hoon, said. “I was so excited to see where he was going with it.”
Christopher Bugembe, 37, who family members remembered as a silver-tongued goofball who took big swings for his six children, was killed in a north side shooting July 22 that also took the life of Valentino I. Stokes, 41.
It came during a visit to his hometown just a month after he moved with four of his kids and his partner to Dallas, where he hoped to escape the trappings of Milwaukee and start over.
“He and I were just starting to get close again the last couple years,” his brother Zach Hoon, said. “I thought I had more time to get closer, and this happens. I want my brother back.”
In the weeks since, the family has struggled to reconcile with the injustice of his death and society’s reaction to it.
Initial media reports of the shooting described Christopher Bugembe as a “37-year-old Wauwatosa man,” and the family has struggled at times to contact police for updates on the ongoing investigation.
It’s these kinds of things that make Christopher Bugembe’s family worry that he will become a nameless, faceless statistic, or another unsolved case, at a time of historic gun violence in Milwaukee.
“I feel like when these kinds of deaths happen, they’re just written off as like ‘Oh yeah, just another thug,’” his sister, Paulina Bugembe-Kuwahara said. “He was a whole person. He’s so charming and loving and loyal. He was a good dad. He was doing the best he could.”
Police have released almost no details about the shooting, which was reported at 12:45 a.m. on the 5700 block of West Fond du Lac Avenue. The circumstances leading up to it are under investigation, and no arrests have been made, police said.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Milwaukee police at 414-935-7360, or to remain anonymous, contact Crime Stoppers at 414-224-Tips, or use the P3 Tips app. Crime Stoppers is offering up to $1,000 for information leading to an arrest.
Members of both victims' families said they know little about how the shooting transpired, but they were not aware of Bugembe and Stokes knowing each other. Bugembe’s family believes he was targeted, and it appears Stokes was an innocent bystander who was out grabbing food with his cousins.
“He was a lovable, quiet, laid back, relaxed, fun person,” his mother, Donna Stokes, said in a brief interview with the Journal Sentinel.
Family described Christopher Bugembe as a huge basketball fan with a funny, quick wit, who thrived as a family man since his release from prison in 2017.
In Dallas, which he referred to as “Lucifer’s patio” for its heat, he found and rented his dream home – a house with an outdoor space, Bugembe-Kuwahara said. After learning how to barbeque from his siblings over video calls, he began grilling daily.
Tavia Bugembe, now 18, said her father was determined to help his kids build a life for themselves and encouraged them to pursue whatever interests they developed. He did not want them to have the same journey in life he had.
His sons want to play sports, so he drove them to and from practice, watched their games and played with them in between. Tavia Bugembe wants to be a beautician, so he helped her craft a plan to save money for school and rent a space to start seeing clients.
There was once a time when Christopher Bugembe’s family felt anxious about him in their lives. Now, they can’t imagine a life without him.
“He was the best dad ever,” Tavia Bugembe said. “We weren’t hungry. Everything we needed, he supported us.
“It’s going to be very hard to get used to him not being here,” Tavia Bugembe said.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Christopher Bugembe turned life around before fatal Milwaukee shooting