A well-known and nationally respected def jam poet was gunned down early Sunday morning outside the coffehouse and spoken word venue he owned and operated in North Miami.
Willie Lee Bell, Jr., 47, who performed as "Will Da Real One," was shot multiple times just after closing Literary Cafe and Poetry Lounge on Northeast 125th Street around 12:40 a.m.
"Everyone loved this man. He did not deserve to die like this," said a friend outside Bell's cafe, who described Bell as a "strong speaker" who "always had something positive to say."
North Miami police say Bell had just locked Literary Cafe and was heading to his car when a vehicle pulled up beside him and an occupant in the passenger seat opened fire.
A number of the cafe's patrons were present when the shooting happened, and various eyewitness reports said black male suspects were seen fleeing in a either a dark-colored vehicle with a spoiler or a light-colored car.
Bell, who opened his cafe in the summer of 2003 to host and promote spoken word poetry, was pronounced dead at the scene. No cash or jewelry was taken, leaving no obvious motive for investigators.
A champion of multiple nationwide spoken word poetry contests, Bell appeared on two seasons of HBO's 'Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry'. He was also featured on albums by fellow Miami artists Pitbull and Rick Ross, and those who knew him said he did just as much for his community as he accomplished in his art.
"There are young ladies here who will tell you how he empowered the women," added another woman to a chorus of affirmations. "He empowered you, let you know you were beautiful, you were worthy, did a lot of fundraising for battered women -- just would give his heart for battered women."
"It was very relaxing at his venue and that was 100 percent due to his 'drama-free zone' policy," said Sheively Buisson, a comedian who now lives in New York. "As a young, nervous comic, I felt comfortable performing at the Literary Cafe because the environment was so positive. And who could forget his amazing poetry? He touched so many lives and will be greatly missed."
A product of Miami housing projects, friends say Bell discovered his gift for prose while serving 14 months for a cocaine trafficking in 1989. He made it his life a decade ago after signing up for Lip, Tongue & Ear, a weekly open mic contest.
"I just got a knack for reaching people," Bell told the Miami New Times in 2005 when he was named the city's best poet. "I got a message that I'm trying to distribute, a piece of myself I'm trying to share."
Anyone with information is asked to call the North Miami Police Department at 305-891-8111 or anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 305-371-TIPS.