Salem mother struggles to bear loss of teen son to gun violence

Jennifer Newman hadn’t heard from her son for a day.

The Salem mom wasn’t yet worried. She knew Matthew, 15, had been staying with a friend. Sometimes, he slept in and forgot to text back. 

The panic set in after a classmate knocked on her door the morning of Tuesday, Nov. 7. 

“I know what happened to Matthew,” he said.

A woman out walking near a northeast Salem home had found her son dead in a truck the day before, the boy said.

Matthew had been shot.

Her son’s face swelled so severely from the gunshot wound that it took police a day and a half to identify him.

By the time officers came to his mother’s house at 2 p.m., she already knew her firstborn son was never coming home again.

“I felt like I was in a nightmare,” she said.

Matthew Newman had gone for a joyride with two friends through a northeast Salem neighborhood when bullets came flying through their truck. An 18-year-old Salem man was charged two months later with his murder.

The teen’s death slashed a hole in the life of his mother and two young siblings. Their story is part of the growing community concern in Salem over teenagers picking up guns and shooting each other. 

A report issued just days after the teen’s death showed a rising number of shootings in Salem with underage victims and assailants. Teenagers were involved in about 10% of Salem shootings between 2018 and 2021. That number has since jumped to over 25%.

Jennifer Newman struggles to make sense of the events that led to her son being shot dead on a Salem street.

Matthew had worked for weeks to bring his grades at North Salem High School up and was passing all his classes. He’d planned to enter his first season of high school wrestling. The sign-ups were the day after he died.

Newman said the suddenness and cruelty behind her son’s death left her feeling “disgusted.” 

Police have told her little about what happened. 

Matthew had gotten in trouble at school for mouthing off, she said, but he’d never been in trouble with the law. He wasn’t involved in a gang. He’d never been arrested.

Three months after his death, she tries to hide her tears from her two young children. She doesn’t want them to lose their smiles. 

But her seven-year-old son no longer wants to be at home. It reminds him of his older brother, who he considered a hero.

Matthew’s laughter used to echo through their house, Newman said. Now, it’s quieter.

“It’s the hardest thing in the world to accept that he’s gone,” she said.

A young man with a big heart

Matthew James Newman was born on Aug. 6, 2008.

His mother, now 34, raised him by herself.

It was a difficult childhood. Jennifer Newman struggled with addiction and spent nearly a year in prison when her son was about 4. After she got out, the family didn’t have stable housing. They moved between relatives, shelters and their car until he was 7.

Throughout the family’s struggles, Matthew always had his mother’s back. She recalled him once asking why she was hard on him when it came to his schoolwork. “I want you to be better than me. I want you to have more than me. I want you to not struggle like me,” she told him.

Newman said her son gave her a reality check. She’ll never forget him telling her to look around and appreciate everything she did have. “I’m super successful in his eyes. I don’t struggle in his eyes. I’m strong in his eyes,” she remembered thinking. “I guess I didn’t see myself like he saw me.”

A collage of family photos Jennifer Newman made to honor her son, Matthew Newman, 15.

Matthew as a child was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, which caused him to have explosive episodes. He also had ADHD, which made it difficult to retain information in class.

“He was a really wiggly, fidgety kid,” his mother said.

Matthew ran track throughout elementary school.

He attended Roberts Middle School, an alternative school. His mother thought he would benefit from the smaller class size.

He had good grades and took up wrestling, competing at state in seventh and eighth grade.

Newman described her son as a sweet, thoughtful boy who would go out of his way for those he cared about. If one of his friends was in a bad situation, he would always ask if they could spend the night.

He made so many friends that Newman couldn’t keep track of them all. “He never liked it to be just him,” she said.

He was a loud kid – at times rowdy or erratic, his mother said. He was suspended from school in eighth grade for being too disruptive in class and using slang. 

“Not everyone got to see he had a very big heart because sometimes his mouth was a little louder,” she said.

After his suspension, school administrators set up behavioral plans to help him. His mother also started keeping in closer touch with parents of the kids he was around.

By his freshman year, Matthew was well aware of the growing number of Salem-area teens involved in violence. 

He once told his mother that a group of young men told him he needed to bring another teen downtown for them to beat up. When he refused, members of the group assaulted him. He went home and told his mother that he was never going downtown again.

When Matthew told her that other students talked about bringing guns to school, she thought he was exaggerating.

“I thought it was just kids talking to be talking,” she said. “I’m very much aware now.”

Senseless loss

Newman last saw Matthew the day before his death.

He and a friend caused a ruckus during a sleepover that woke his family in the early morning hours of Saturday, Nov. 4. After he and his mother got into an argument, he ran away to the friend’s house. 

They stayed in touch, and he kept her posted on where he was. Matthew told her the next day that he went to stay with another friend. 

His mother texted him to make up after their argument. “We need to find a neutral ground where we can respect each other and move forward. I need to tell you that I appreciate you more often, and I was grateful that you did the dishes. I just want you to keep up the good work,” she wrote.

“Okay, mom,” Matthew responded. He told her that he planned to return home that night. 

“I didn’t even respond because I had company come over,” his mother said. “I feel so stupid for not responding to that message because it was the last one.”

Matthew didn’t come home Sunday night.

When Newman didn’t hear from him Monday, she thought he might have slept through the day after a late night, as he had before.

She wouldn’t learn what happened to Matthew until more than a day after he died. It was Tuesday morning when his classmate knocked on her door.

It’s the hardest thing in the world to accept that he’s gone.

Jennifer Newman, on her son Matthew, 15, who was shot and killed in northeast Salem

Public court documents contain no account of the shooting. Police have not publicly identified a motive or released an account of what happened.

Without official information, Newman has to rely on rumors from Matthew’s friends to fill in the gaps in his last hours of life.

One of the boys he was out with was a good friend, she said. Matthew had never mentioned the other boy to his mother. 

She’s heard the three were riding in a stolen truck when Matthew yelled insults at two people walking by.

Moments later, they passed the same people and bullets flew.

Matthew was shot in the head. He collapsed.

Both teens Matthew was riding with fled the scene, leaving him lifeless in the truck.

Just before 7:30 a.m. on Nov. 6, a woman reported an unconscious person in a truck near a house in the 1000 block of Northeast Evergreen Avenue. 

Police arrived and fire crews arrived about seven minutes later. They found a boy dead from a gunshot wound. 

Investigators didn’t identify Matthew until the next day. His mother called the police after learning from her son’s classmate that he had been killed.

Police went to Newman’s house several hours later. They said they had found a body that matched her son’s description but weren’t sure it was him.

“I told them about a birthmark that he had, and they confirmed his identity,” she said.

Two months later, police made an arrest in Matthew’s death.

A Marion County grand jury indicted Gage J. Clark Adkins on charges of second-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and three counts of unlawful use of a weapon.

Clark Adkins was 17 at the time of the shooting. He was arrested just days after his 18th birthday and is being charged as an adult. 

He spent a year and a half in a youth correctional facility after being adjudicated for possessing firearms illegally, aggravated harassment, criminal mischief and unlawful use of a motor vehicle, according to Liz Gharst, spokeswoman for the Oregon Youth Authority.

Clark Adkins was released on parole 11 weeks before the shooting.

Newman had no idea who Clark Adkins was before he was charged with her son’s murder.

She wonders what his killer had in mind that day when he packed a loaded gun.

She was asked to speak at a court hearing. 

“Honestly, I don’t even know what to say, because how do you reach a monster like that, that is willing to just kill a bunch of kids?” she said, pausing as she cried.

Painful recovery

Over the past three months, Newman said she’s struggled to move forward and get the family back into a routine since her son’s death. 

She returned on Feb. 2 to her job as a caregiver because she could no longer afford to stay home and grieve.

Matthew had asked his mother to sign him up for piano lessons. His first lesson was scheduled for the day she learned of his death.

Instead, Matthew’s little brother has been hard at work learning to play the piano. “He knows that those were his brother’s piano lessons,” she said.

At times, her surviving son gets angry. 

“Matthew didn’t want to die young,” she recalled him telling her. “He wanted to die when he was old.”

She said she didn’t know many of Matthew’s friends who reached out after his death. But they spread the word around school about his celebration of life.

“A lot of people showed up and wrote stories about Matthew, and they were able to let me see what kind of light he was in their life,” she said. “I know how much he was in mine.”

A GoFundMe raising money for the boy’s funeral expenses and his mother’s time away from work had raised over $4,000 as of Thursday. The fund’s goal is $5,000. 

Newman said her son shouldn’t have been out late the night that he died. He shouldn’t have let another teen drive him around, and he shouldn’t have yelled out of the car window. But he didn’t deserve to be shot and left for dead.

She said she hasn’t been allowed to speak with the two boys he was with that night, but she wants to know if they cared about her son. She also wonders if they intend to steer clear of violence. 

“You took my kid out for some shenanigans and you didn’t bring him home,” she said.

The Salem community is allowing gun violence to continue by not having enough safe places where teens can socialize without getting into trouble, Newman said. Matthew was on the waitlist to get into the Boys & Girls Club.

Newman said youth clubs and programs often take time to get into. “Then sometimes when they’re available, the kids aren’t into them anymore. They don’t want to do it anymore,” she said. “That’s hard.” 

She is looking into properties where she could open an indoor skate park in the city.

Days after Clark Adkins was arrested, the Newman family traveled to Puerto Rico, where friends had invited them to start the healing process.

They spread some of Matthew’s ashes in the ocean at a beach called Green Island. It was fitting, his mother said, because green was his favorite color.

“We cried, but it was good. It was good tears,” she said.

Her young son asked what she thought Matthew might be doing at that moment.

“He’s probably playing on the beach with his grandma and grandpa,” Newman recalled saying. “He’s probably having a really great time and he’s probably smiling all the time like he did at home.”

Correction: Newman was told the shooter was walking at the time. An earlier version incorrectly reported her recollection that the shooter was in another vehicle.


UPDATE: Salem man accused of murdering teen boy charged with shooting at 2 others

Teen, 15, found dead in car was shot, Salem police say

Police investigating “suspicious death” of teen found in car in NE Salem

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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Ardeshir Tabrizian has covered criminal justice and housing for Salem Reporter since September 2021. As an Oregon native, his award-winning watchdog journalism has traversed the state. He has done reporting for The Oregonian, Eugene Weekly and Malheur Enterprise.