MEMPHIS, Tenn. — At the corner of Homer Street and Wayne Avenue, every Saturday morning, you’d find John Materna, known as Red to his friends, doing what he loved and that was selling watermelons out of the back of his truck.
“He enjoyed just meeting people whether you bought anything or not,” his longtime friend Randall Linn said.

But on this day his truck is gone and in its place is a makeshift memorial made up of flowers, balloons and a picture of Red, who died Monday after being taken off life support.

“I’m finding it hard to accept. We were neighbors for 35 years,” Linn said.

Red was a fixture in the community, having sold his watermelons for decades. But on May 15, Memphis Police say he was shot and robbed by two men seen getting out of a silver Infiniti.

Last Saturday, the community responded by showing up to buy his watermelons, being sold by his children to help pay his medical bills.
“The outpouring was just fantastic. We thought we were just going to get rid of his last load of watermelons and ended up with five loads of watermelons,” Linn said.

This week, Memphis police arrested and charged 15-year-old Demarion Tackett in the fatal shooting.

Many question why crimes like this keep happening.

“Until we, not enact laws, but we enforce the laws that are on the books, there’s no deterrent out here. There’s none,” Linn said.

Neighbors such as Alicia Hulett call his murder senseless.

“I just immediately started to say, ‘I pray it’s not Mister John (Materna)’ because he was so sweet and just loved the kids and is always here just innocent, selling his watermelons,'” Hulett said. “And to know his life has been taken senselessly by children, that hurts even more. We just got to do better as a community.”

As for John “Red” Materna’s family, they say they knew what he meant to the community and it’s why they left this large picture with a note saying thank for loving their father — also known as the Watermelon Man.

“This is not to have happened, but he was doing what he loved,” Linn said.

This weekend, family and friends have scheduled a candlelight vigil to honor and remember John Materna. It’ll get underway at 7 Sunday night at the corner of Homer and Wayne.

Wednesday, the Materna family released a statement on their loved one:

“The tragic loss of this incredible husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, brother, uncle, and friend is massive. He is loved by so many people, so much that I don’t think he himself knew the amount of love and admiration that was felt for him. We love you, we miss you and will always miss you. We will cherish every memory we have of you. We want to thank the community for they love and support they have shown. Here’s a big wave from the Watermelon Man.”