William Ford Jr: What Happened to His Family?

Image Credit: Netflix

‘Strong Island,’ the Netflix crime documentary, delves into the death of William Ford Jr., a 24-year-old Long Island Educator, who lost his life in an altercation at an auto repair shop. Mark Reilly, the 19-year-old who pulled the trigger on William, was able to claim self-defense and evade any indictments in the case. The same remained a source of irresolution for William’s family, who never received any closure.

Therefore, the documentary includes perspectives of William’s mother, Barbara Dunmore, younger sister, Lauren, and younger brother, Yance — the filmmaker behind the poignant project. While discussing William’s tragic death — for which no party has ever been convicted — the Fords also shared how the misfortune affected them as individuals and as a family.

William Ford Jr.’s Family Faced Hardships in the Aftermath of His Death

After William Ford Jr.’s death in 1992, his case failed to go to trial, as the Grand Jury didn’t pass a “true bill” declining to indict Mark Reilly with manslaughter charges. The decision devastated the Ford family. William’s mother, Barbara, who wanted to believe she might find justice for her son’s death, couldn’t help but remain angry at the situation. In ‘Strong Island,’ she shared her deep-seated belief that the jury came to their decision due to her son’s identity as a Black man.

Lauren Ford//Image Credit: Netflix

In the same documentary, the Ford family also discussed the consistent presence of an ominous car outside their house and silent phone calls at night, suggesting their outcry over William’s death brought subtle outside intimidation to their lives. In response, William Sr., the family’s patriarch, grew silent, weary of someone harming his other two kids. Although Barbara and William Sr.’s dissimilar emotions caused some friction in their marriage, the couple worked through the complication. A year later, William Sr. underwent a drastic medical issue after suffering a stroke that caused paralysis from the waist down. Shortly, William Sr. passed away due to the stroke, leaving his wife and two kids behind.

Meanwhile, the Ford siblings dealt with the tragedy in their own ways. Lauren, the youngest sibling, avoided speaking about her brother with anyone in the family, holding William’s memories close and cherishing them in her grief. In the later years, after her father’s stroke, the family’s finances didn’t allow for the young woman to pursue her aspirations of becoming a cop or an EMT. Therefore, even though she had applied to the Rochester Police Department and was looking into the Monroe Sherriff’s County, the family’s inability to support her led to the dissolution of those dreams.

Meanwhile, Yance — who was AFAB (Assigned Female at Birth), was undergoing a transformative journey at Hamilton University, realizing his queer identity spanned beyond an attraction toward women when the tragedy of his older brother’s death struck. “I pivoted from going to the counseling center to figure out how I was going to come out [as a lesbian] to my family to going to the counseling center to figure out how I was going to deal with my brother being murdered,” The filmmaker later told The Guardian in a 2017 interview. Yance Ford graduated from Hamilton in 1994 and saw an introduction to the transgender identity in 1995.

Over the years, despite the highs and lows that came the Fords’ way, the family continued to feel William’s devastating absence. Nonetheless, William’s parents and his siblings never sat down together to vocalize their emotions and share them as a family. Thus, the oldest Ford’s death—and the ensuing lack of closure—remained instrumental in the family’s future, leaving a mark on their lives.

Where is William Ford Jr.’s Family Now?

After university, Yance Ford stayed on track for a filmmaking career. He served as a producer on numerous projects, most notably the PBS’ 2007 series, ‘P.O.V.’ By 2011, Yance had left enough of an impression on the industry that Filmmaker Magazine named him as one of the 25 New Faces of Independent Film. Afterward, the filmmaker won the 2011–2012 Fledgling Fund Fellowship at MacDowell, allowing him the resources to create a documentary about his past. Consequently, ‘Strong Island’ came into being.

“Black lives are too easy to take in America because we don’t want to question why people are so afraid of black and brown people, to begin with,” Yance said while discussing his project. “And that’s what I want Strong Island to do.” At the same time, the film naturally remained incredibly personal to Yance and his family. The Ford family found a space to express their emotions over William’s death in the documentary while following the facts of the case to bring the story to the world.

However, while the documentary’s development was still underway, the Ford siblings saw another tragedy in the family. On November 25, 2012, Barbara Dunmore passed away at the age of 70 following a coma. When Yance spoke about his mother’s death, he maintained the belief that “stress and self-blame and second-guessing and disappointment and anger” were contributors to Barbara’s demise. Once ‘Strong Island’ was released in 2017 at the Sundance Film Festival, paving the path for an Oscar nomination, it cemented Yance as the first openly transgender director to be nominated for an Academy Award. He shared the experience with his sister, Lauren, and his chosen family, including a decade-long publically anonymous partner-now-wife. The same year, he also won a spot on an annual list, The Root 100, which highlights the most influential African American individuals between the ages of 25-45.

Yance Ford//Image Credit: The Hollywood Reporter

Although the film, winning several accolades, brought the Ford family and their story to the public’s consciousness, Lauren and Yance continued living relatively private lives. Unlike her brother, Lauren remains entirely out of the public eye. On the other hand, while Yance remains a prominent figure in filmmaking, he prefers to keep his personal life under wraps. Consequently, even though he is on social media platforms like Instagram and X (formerly known as Twitter), the former is a private account, and the latter only holds information about his professional undertakings.

Professionally, Yance’s life continues to thrive under public scrutiny as the filmmaker who directorially debuted with ‘Strong Island’ continued helming other directing projects. Some of his work includes episodes on shows like ‘Trial by Media,’ ‘Pride,’ and ‘Work in Progress.’ His latest project, ‘Power,’ a documentary revolving around policing in America, was released on Netflix in 2024, adding to the filmmaker’s growing legacy. As such, Yance has been involved in promoting the project through interviews and conversations, including his appearance on Democracy Now earlier in the year.

Read More: William Ford Jr: Who Was He? How Did He Die?