It was 15 years ago, but the still image is burnt into Aiken's memory. His mother, Ethel Edge, was lying in the floor, suffering from multiple gun shots that claimed her life.
"I got to see her," Aiken, 18, said Tuesday night in recalling the scene. "That's the only thing I remember from that night. It was so long ago."
It was the start of a rough, confusing, frustrating and sometimes hostile childhood for Aiken, a cornerback from Chaminade-Madonna High (Hollywood, Fla.) and the latest member of Rutgers' 2011 recruiting class.
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Aiken gave a non-binding oral commitment to Rutgers on Sunday at the conclusion of an official visit, and he gave ScarletReport.com the first interview since making the decision.
|Aiken at Rutgers' camp|
The family atmosphere, the structure of coach Greg Schiano's football program, the reputation of the sending players to the NFL and graduating its students-athletes at a higher rate than any school in the nation were all reasons Aiken chose Rutgers.
However, how he got in position to choose the Scarlet Knights from well over a dozen other scholarship offers is nothing short of miraculous.
"Growing up, I always felt like the world owed me something," Aiken said. "Now, as I get older, I figure I should just stop living in the past. I can't forget about it, but I can try and make something positive. That gives me reason to keep fighting, to go in the weight room and work out, to play football and make them proud.
"My mom and my grandmamma, that's who I live for now. If I make them proud, then they'll look down on me and bless me."
The trouble started when Aiken, the youngest of four children, was three years old.
His mother worked at printing company in Dania Beach, Fla. Aiken said one day she got into a heated argument with her boyfriend, and it turned physical.
"She made it back in the house and she died right in my little playroom."
When Ethel Edge died, Aiken was cared for by his grandmother, Helen Edge. Soon after, though, he was split from his brother (Joseph) and two sisters (Ashley and Brittany).
A few years later, Aiken was the focus of other kids, who didn't understand why his mother wasn't around.
"It used to get to me. I can't even lie," Aiken said. "It used to get to me a lot. In elementary school, I went in the middle of an urban district, and kids used to pick on me because they had moms and I didn't. That caused me a lot of problems, but I guess as I get older I use it as motivation to be something greater."
By the time Aiken was eight, Helen Edge was increasing in years, and she could no longer handle his day-to-day care.
He was placed into Florida's foster care system.
"The first time I went, it was crazy," Aiken said. "I had a case worker. She didn't tell me what was going on. She took me to a place, gave me some money and dropped me off and she said she'd be back. I didn't see her for about a year."
After being in foster care for approximately two years, Aiken moved in with Robert Graham, whom Jonathan refers to as his uncle. And Graham's mother, Mattie, became Aiken's legal guardian in 2000.
|Aiken at Chaminade-Madonna|
Aiken always found ways to work things out. Despite the separation from his siblings, they managed to remain in contact.
Joseph is in the Marines and stationed at Camp Pendleton, which is north of San Diego, and the two communicate as often as possible.
"My older sister (Ashley) lives in a neighborhood close by, so I walk over there sometimes and try to see her," Aiken said. "My other sister, I don't really see her that much, but we try to communicate. It's just that we were separated so young growing up, it's hard to keep in touch, but we try."
Given the way Rutgers embraces the family aspect of its program, it makes sense Aiken felt an connection to the staff and the players.
When he made an unofficial visit in June, he nearly committed. In the month after the visit, he continually said Rutgers was his leader, and several times he nearly committed.
And prior to his official visit over the weekend, Aiken told ScarletReport.com he was a heavy lean toward Rutgers and he likely would commit.
On the visit, Aiken was hosted by freshman defensive back Rashad Knight on the first night, and Miami native and red-shirt freshman offensive lineman Antwan Lowery hosted him the second night.
"I got to go to coach Schiano's house, I met his wife, a couple of his kids," Aiken said. "I met a couple of the different coach's wives, and just hanging around the players, and seeing how they live, it's kind of like what you do at home.
"I thought it was genuine. I didn't think it was a whole recruiting process. Going to Rutgers, I can get better as a person."