The 22-year-old man shot and killed early Saturday in North Highlands felt he was “born to be his brother’s eyes,” his mother said Monday.
Isaiah Bridgett was the younger brother of Benjamin Underwood, the blind Elk Grove teen who made national headlines about a decade ago for his ability to “see with sound.” Their mother, Aquanetta Gordon, said Bridgett will be laid to rest near his brother, who died of cancer in 2009.
Through a childhood of describing the world to his brother, Bridgett developed a gift for imagery, Gordon said. After Underwood’s death, Bridgett turned to writing music.
“He got his writing from the way he described the world to Ben,” Gordon said. “We’re in the car and they’re in the back seat, he would describe the scenery. ‘Ben, you know, the trees out there, they’re green.’ I mean, he would put such a description in it as a little kid and it just grew in him.”
On Friday night, Bridgett was attending a house party on Plumber Way in North Highlands. Someone called the police to report gunfire as the 200- to 300-person party was winding down in the early hours Saturday morning.
Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies responded at 3 a.m., but partygoers said the sounds were fireworks. Shortly after, Bridgett and another man showed up at a local hospital. Bridgett had been shot in the head and another man was hit in the arm.
Bridgett was pronounced dead at the hospital. Gordon has launched a GoFundMe account to help with funeral expenses.
Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Tony Turnbull said Bridgett and the second victim were the rear passengers in a car leaving the party. Detectives believe there were multiple shooters and aren’t sure yet what precipitated the shooting. There were multiple fights happening, he said.
“These kinds of shootings ... happen way too often at parties like this,” he said. “Things are promoted on social media and you end up getting unwelcome guests who bring guns or problems.”
Then people scatter, for good reason, he said, and it can be difficult to piece together what happened. Detectives believe the shooter was at the party for a period of time and may be in photos or videos from the night. Turnbull said anyone with photos or videos should contact the Sheriff’s Department. They can be submitted anonymously online, he said.
Detectives have identified the suspect as a black man in his 20s with short, dreadlocks. He stands between 5 feet 9 inches and 5 feet 10, weighs between 175 and 180 pounds, and was wearing a red-hooded sweatshirt.
Gordon said Bridgett had a gift for knowing when something was about to go wrong at a party. He would tell his friends it was time to leave because something was about to go down.
“Every time they left, something always happened,” Gordon said. “And that’s what happened in this case... This time he didn’t make it away.”
She thinks his intuition came from his observational skills, which he honed over years of seeing for Underwood. Bridgett was three years younger, the closest in age to Underwood of Gordon’s five kids.
Underwood lost his eyes as a toddler to retinal cancer. He amazed everyone he met, including teachers and doctors, with his ability to use echolocation to get around safely. He would click his tongue and listen to the sound waves he created to identify objects in front of him – a skill more commonly used by bats and dolphins. He refused to use the white cane that would label him as blind and lived as normal a childhood as possible by playing basketball, practicing karate and skating.
Underwood could play video games by memorizing scenarios and the sounds characters made for different actions. Bridgett would read words on the screen for him, Gordon said, which helped Underwood become a master player.
Elevated to national fame by his unusual skill, Underwood appeared on television programs with Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres. He traveled the world to tell his story and formed a friendship with music legend Stevie Wonder.
He died of a cancer recurrence when Bridgett was 13.
“Isaiah took that really hard,” Gordon said. “Ben had a lot of attention and he was in Ben’s shadow... And he didn’t want to be in Ben’s shadow. He wanted to develop his own life, his own – he wanted to be famous, I’ll say. Because his brother was famous to him and he wanted to be like his brother.”
Bridgett felt his path to fame was through his music, Gordon said. She said he was working on songs with a friend for some upcoming shows.
“He was rapping about how hard it is for black men today,” Gordon said. “Just a kid trying to grow up to become a man, trying to find his way. He wasn’t a bad kid.”
She is devastated by the loss of another child. When Underwood died, it was a slow decline and she knew he would eventually die. She got to say goodbye.
“I know what it’s like to bury a child,” she said. “I didn’t know what it was like to get a phone call. Now I know.”
Gordon wrote a 2014 book with former Bee reporter Chris Macias about Underwood, “Echoes of an Angel: The Miraculous True Story of a Boy Who Lost His Eyes But Could Still See.” She gives motivational talks and will incorporate Bridgett into her speeches.
“I will use this to help others,” she said. “He will not have died in vain. Isaiah will not have died in vain.”