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					San Francisco Chronicle Beat Reporting Entry: A Plague of Killing (Beat: Oakland) Credit: Staff Writer Jim Herron Zamora Dates: December 2, 23 and 28, 2006 Page: A1 December 2, 2006, Page A1

Oakland funeral director tries to prevent the friends of young homicide victims from meeting the same fate
By Jim Herron Zamora Chronicle Staff Writer Anthony London has long prepared bodies for viewing and comforted grieving widows and mothers. Oakland's surging violence has added a new dimension to his work -- he urges the younger brothers and friends of the victims to avoid an early berth in the casket. "I find it difficult when I see the parents and the grandparents sitting in the first row," said London, a funeral director who has attended to 40 homicide victims this year. "I see the tears of the mother and grandmother. I see the anger of the father and brothers. "The hardest thing of all is when I look in the eyes of their friends, and I see no hope. I see all these friends in their T-shirts, hoodies and hats -- all with the photo of the deceased sprayed on -- and I talk to these kids. They all wonder if they're next." The fear is real. Oakland has seen 140 killings so far this year compared with 94 for all of 2005. Half of this year's victims were 25 and younger. London said he performed a service for a young man about two years ago. Since then, he has handled the funerals of two of that man's pallbearers. All were homicides. Death has changed since London, who turned 49 on Thursday, began working in funeral homes 15 years ago. The victims are "getting younger and younger," he said, noting that this year he has handled more teenagers than in recent memory, including two 14-yearolds. "There are guys that I see growing up. Then when they are teenagers, I have to bury them," said London, a West Oakland native who raised three daughters in the city. His outreach has included graphic mortuary tours for young teens who are getting in trouble.


"I show kids that death is ugly," he said. "It's nothing like a rap song. "I wanted to show these kids that this isn't TV," London added. "It isn't like 'Six Feet Under'; this is real and tragic. When you're gone, you're gone. You don't take your turf with you. You don't take your bling. When you get here, you are nothing but a cold, dead body with bullet holes in it." London got his start as a maintenance man at the Whitted-Williams Funeral Home but quickly worked his way up to funeral director and has handled hundreds of services, mainly for African Americans in Oakland, Berkeley and Richmond. These include memorials for O.J. Simpson's mother and actor Danny Glover's parents. London takes great pride and pleasure in providing a dignified service for older people, recalling the memorials of World War II heroes, former Pullman porters and retired educators. "This isn't just a job like working at McDonald's or Starbucks," London said. "It's a calling: to provide dignity in death and help a family through a traumatic time. "I love my work, except for the homicides," he said. "The young ones -- they stick with me." Wayne Gordon Jr. was one who stuck with him. An 18-year-old who was gunned down on Nov. 4 in East Oakland, Gordon died less than three months after his release from the California Youth Authority. On the day Gordon's body was released from the Alameda County coroner's office, London was busy supervising another funeral. A colleague of his at Whitted-Williams performed the embalming, which slows decomposition. He made two small incisions where the neck met the collarbone and two more where the inner thigh met the torso. Then together they sewed up Gordon's torso, which had suffered several gunshot wounds and was cut open during the coroner's autopsy, and used absorbent material and powders to absorb fluids in his chest cavity. Repairing the body -- especially the face -- of a homicide victim for an open-casket service often is a challenge, London said, because gunshot wounds to the head can make the face unrecognizable. London used a family photo of Gordon to arrange him to look "as familiar as possible to his family." But it wasn't the condition of Gordon's body that worried London. It was the family. He worried about how Gordon's family -- especially his mother and grandmother -would handle the sight of his body. At both the viewing and the memorial service, London hovered close by the two women, ready with a kind word, a steady arm and a hug.


"Mr. Gordon's body required a lot of work because there were multiple gunshot wounds," London said. "But thankfully his face was the way his family remembered. That was good, because I knew it was important to his family, especially his grandmother, to be able to touch his face and hold him one last time." At the memorial, about 250 people -- most of them young -- crowded into Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church on Foothill Boulevard. There was concern that outsiders might come and engage in violence because two men were killed on Oct. 28 a block away from the church. Several young men stood outside and cautioned people not to linger in case a local gang opened fire. Inside, London coached the pallbearers to "be strong" and "be ready ... those women need your support." Later, Jacqueline Gordon praised London's handling of her son's death. At his suggestion, she met with an organizer from the Million Mom March, and Gordon hopes to become active in groups that support the family members of homicide victims. "This is really a wake-up call to stop all of this violence," said Jacqueline Gordon. "I'm calling out to all the other mothers out there; you need to watch out for your children." London said that if Gordon's family members became active, it might help them heal and possibly reduce future violence. "I didn't want him to just be case No. 128. ... I wanted his life to stand for more than what he died for," London said later. "There's nothing we can do for Mr. Gordon now. For Mr. Gordon to be struck down at such an early age is very bad. For his mom to see this is not a good situation. He has four little brothers. We need to work on them, to break the chain, break the cycle, save those young guys." Another case that stuck with London was the Nov. 16 funeral for 8-year-old Raijon Daniels of Richmond, whose mother is accused of fatally torturing him. London said he can't recall feeling such tense emotions in the room at a service. At the same time, he had to suppress his own feelings of sadness for the child while keeping a calm, professional exterior. "When a person who is old or had a long illness passes, everyone feels comfortable honoring their life," London said. "It's a powerful grief, but it's totally different from the funeral of young person who died violently. ... In the case of little Raijon Daniels, there was this powerful mix of emotions in the room -- anger, guilt and sadness. The air was thick with anger." London, who has worked for the Whitted-Williams and Baker-Williams mortuaries for about 15 years, lost his job Tuesday as part of staffing cuts by the new owner of both funeral homes. He plans to get a new job in the same field.


He also hopes to expand his mortuary tour project, which is a "Scared Straight"-type program. A year ago, London and Todd Walker, coach of the Berkeley Cougars youth football team, began giving graphic tours of the funeral home to children ages 11 to 15, particularly boys who were failing at school or just starting to hang with gang members. "Anthony has probably saved some lives," said Walker, who has lost three former players to homicides in the past year. Part of London's lecture includes cases where bodies are so badly damaged from gunshot wounds that they are unrecognizable -- even to the victim's mother or girlfriend. One of them was a man he had known for 20 years. "When I picked up his body at the coroner's, it was so torn and so mangled that I didn't recognize him until the family brought me a photo," he said. "He had been shot from behind in the head, and the impact totally destroyed his face." London maintained his professional composure but later said, "I cried for that young man. I cry for a lot of them. Sometimes, I just cry inside, but I feel them all." E-mail Jim Zamora at

December 23, 2006, Page A1 (Note to judges: Henneessy spells his nickname as shown.)

Life is good after brush with death
With the wounded toll topping homicides, some survivors are gaining insight that makes them whole in a new way
By Jim Herron Zamora Chronicle Staff Writer Cheating death can make you see life a whole new way. That's what happened to Ronnie "Henneessy" Jackson. In 2003, gunmen using AK-47 and Mac-90 automatic rifles fired 50 rounds into his parked van in East Oakland. He was struck 11 times, briefly flatlined in surgery, then endured 10 operations and spent nearly three years paralyzed from the neck down. "I know death up close. I got gunshot wounds from my neck to my knees," said Jackson, 33, a streetwise Oakland native with a minor criminal background who is better known by his nickname and rap moniker. "I still got an AK bullet in my back and Mac-90 bullet in my leg."


So in June, when his buddy Akil "Slim" Anderson was shot by a robber and left paralyzed, Jackson knew what he had to do. "I just took it upon myself to just show him that what he would expect from losing his ability to walk," he said. "I just wanted him to keep his head up, and keep his game up." Anderson is among hundreds of people wounded, but not killed, by gunfire in Oakland this year. Police say the number of nonfatal shootings has increased by nearly 50 percent from last year - to 674 as of Dec. 17, compared with 459 in all of 2005. While 148 of this year's shooting victims have died in homicides, the highest toll in more than a decade, many of the others are alive as a result of luck and modern medical care. "The difference between a homicide and a (nonfatal) shooting is often a fraction of an inch," said Oakland police homicide Sgt. Tony Jones. "The person pulling the trigger is trying to commit murder. The only reason you live is because the shooter barely missed a major artery or because they got you to Highland (Hospital) quick enough to save you." Many of the shooting victims, including Jackson and Anderson, do not have health insurance and are unable to pay medical bills that can reach hundreds of thousands of dollars per patient - which burdens the county's public health system with millions of dollars a year in unreimbursed expenses, officials say. The trauma also puts an emotional strain on victims, who can spend years struggling to recuperate. A couple of days after Anderson, 29, was shot, Jackson showed up at the hospital and began spending hours at his bedside. And for six months, Jackson has been encouraging Anderson not to give up hope and to keep trying to use his legs again. Six month later, they still commiserate each day about their brushes with death and their struggles with life. "If it wasn't for Henneessy, I don't know if Akil would have made it," said Anderson's sister, Shani Anderson. "My brother might have given up. But Henneessy knows exactly what he is going through, and he's been there for him." Jackson survived, but not for the shooters' lack of trying. Two gunmen using automatic weapons fired more than 50 rounds into his van on April 3, 2003, while he was sitting in the driver's seat. He says he's still not sure of the motive. The case remains unsolved. It was the second time he had been shot. He was wounded with two gunshots in 2001 in the same neighborhood, near 76th Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard in one of the most violent areas of the city. But those injuries were minor compared to the 2003 shooting. In the emergency room, Jackson said that all activity in his brain and his heart stopped until doctors resuscitated him.


"I spent eight months in a gurney, and when they let me sit up, I got dizzy and disoriented," he said. "I thought I was going to be there forever." At first, Jackson said he became depressed and didn't want his four kids or any "lady friends" to see him stuck in a bed, unable to use the bathroom without help. "I was kind of hard to deal with," he said. "I was in so much pain and trauma, it was hard to be nice. Just the tiniest thing like the clothes touching my skin would hurt or just bumping into the bed would hurt. Sometimes people just talking too much would give me a headache." But the turning point came about six months later - "that first day I flinched my big toe just a teeny bit, I knew then I was going to walk someday," Jackson said. Jackson would crawl around his home, dragging himself along the floor and then bracing himself on furniture or walls. After a year and a half, he was able to stand up, and on the third anniversary of the shooting, he took his first steps without assistance. Now, he frequently takes walks near the block where he was shot. He has an unusual gait, as if his legs want to go forward a little faster than his upper body. "I feel like I'm on stilts," he said laughing. "I can't really feel my legs below the knees. I tell them to walk and they move, so that's all that counts." Anderson had not been wounded when he first met Jackson last year. Both men were recording self-produced hip-hop CDs at a private studio in San Leandro. "When I heard his story, I was really stunned by it," said Anderson, who grew up in Chico and lived in Santa Rosa until moving to Oakland in 2005. "It sounded unreal to me. I never thought something like this would happen to me - that I would get shot and paralyzed." On June 6, Anderson was walking into a hair salon at 45th and Market streets when a gunman surprised him from behind and demanded his gold chain necklace. "When I turned, he shot me once in the chest," Anderson said. "He stood over me and tried to shoot me again, but the gun jammed. He grabbed my necklace and ran away." Anderson couldn't move his legs or stand. But he didn't wait for an ambulance - a friend drove him to Highland Hospital in Oakland. The bullet cut an artery and damaged nerves along his spine, he said. "I flatlined - I was dead for five minutes, but the doctors brought me back," Anderson said. "The bullet went through my stomach, tore up my liver, went through the main artery that pumps blood to my heart, and then it got my spine. I was unconscious for eight days."


When he finally woke up, he became enraged. "They had to restrain me when they told me I couldn't walk," said Anderson, who has since moved out of the Bay Area, in part to avoid his attacker, who remains at large and has not been identified by police. Neither Anderson's girlfriend, Davina Calavano, nor his sister knew Jackson before he showed up at the hospital shortly after the shooting. "Henneessy just lifted his spirit, completely changed Akil's attitude and his emotions," said Calavano. "Henneessy helped Akil believe in himself in a way that no doctor, no social worker, no family member could do." When asked why he spent so much time with Anderson, Jackson shrugged, grinned and replied: "He's my dog, man. I just look out for him." "No one did that for me," Jackson added. "I got a second chance at life, and I wanted to do something better. I realized I was the only one who could do this for him. Besides, we never did make a CD together." Anderson said he spent more than a month at Highland, and during that time he saw people even more seriously injured than he had been. "There are people there I thought had no chance," Anderson said. "I had some bad luck to get shot in Oakland. But it was good luck I went to Highland." Hospital officials, citing patient confidentiality law, declined to comment. The emergency room there is widely considered one of the best in the nation in part because the medical staff has so much experience with shooting victims. Jones, who investigated nonfatal shootings before joining the homicide team, said Oakland police are often in awe of how the staff at Highland Hospital saves lives. "They perform miracles at Highland," Jones said. ''There was a case where a guy was shot right in the middle of his forehead - I looked at him and thought, 'He's dead, that's homicide,' but they brought him back. I've interviewed the victim several times. He still suffers from his injury - how can you not? - but he walks and talks like nothing happened." While Anderson and Jackson praised Highland's emergency room, their overall experience with the health-care system since leaving the hospital has not been as good. Both men said they were denied state benefits for crime victims because of their prior criminal convictions for drug possession. Anderson has more than $600,000 in unpaid medical bills, and the only physical therapy he receives is paid for by his girlfriend and her family.


"He needs a spinal cord specialist, but we can't afford that," Calavano said. To Anderson, it's all a matter of perspective. He may be broke and partially paralyzed, but he is alive, loved and each day makes a tiny bit of progress. "I'm still alive this Christmas - that's really all you need for a present," Anderson said. "Everybody should cherish the things that they have and stop bitching and complaining because something like this can happen and then you really have reason to complain." E-mail Jim Zamora at December 28, 2006, Page A1

CITY’S HOMICIDES AFFECT LITTLE ONES IN BIG WAYS Children who lose a parent are angry, confused, in pain
By Jim Herron Zamora Chronicle Staff Writer

Mykaael O'Brien has nightmares that people are shooting at him. Precious Brewer sometimes sees her father's face when looking at strangers. Destiny Quintero sees the moon and says it's her daddy smiling at her. All three are children who have lost a parent or close relative to homicide in Oakland. So is Jalen Bryant, who spent six weeks mourning a close cousin's death before another relative was killed last week. Asha Parvins had chilling nightmares about her uncle's death for four years, but "now I only have sad dreams." Victim advocates estimate that for every person killed in a homicide -- there have been 148 in Oakland so far this year, compared with 94 last year -- there is at least one child who has lost a parent. Kids scarred by the loss respond in different ways. "Many children just close down, and they give you very little to work with," said Berkeley therapist Lenora Poe, who has counseled more than 250 children of homicide victims in the past 23 years. "It can take a long time to draw them out and help them deal with their loss. These children are angry, confused and in a lot of pain. They often blame themselves when a parent is killed. It's really true that these homicides destroy much more than one person."


These kids often are raised solely by the remaining parent, a grandparent or an aunt, an arrangement that can present additional stresses for the caretaker, said Poe, who also facilitates a support group for custodial grandparents, including many raising the children of homicide victims. "They are faced with a double whammy," Poe said. "I see many grandparents who take over the parenting role while they are still grieving. They don't have time to grieve, and they feel like they have to put their feelings aside to help the kids." Ericka Byrd, 24, knows that pull between dealing with her own numbing grief and trying to be strong for her two children, who mourn their father differently. "I have a lot of trouble sleeping. My poor son has nightmares," Byrd said. "I feel helpless in this situation." Byrd's longtime boyfriend, Michael O'Brien, was shot to death Aug. 19 in his old neighborhood just east of Lake Merritt. An aspiring songwriter, O'Brien left behind 8year-old son Mykaael and 5-year-old daughter Mykaela. O'Brien's son responded by becoming very quiet, having nightmares and sometimes just crying alone. "I miss my best friend," he said. His sister keeps asking her mother questions, such as: "Why would someone kill my daddy?" In a presentation for her kindergarten, Mykaela said that if she could have just one wish, "I would have another day with my daddy." "This has been the hardest ... four months of my entire life," Byrd said. "I don't understand their grief. My father is still around. My grief is different. I lost my mate." Byrd knew the holidays were stressful, so she decided to take a month's leave of absence from work. "I took the children to Disneyland for Christmas," Byrd said. "It was too depressing to spend Christmas at home without Michael." Just before they made the drive to Southern California, they stopped by the cemetery where O'Brien is buried and decorated his grave with Christmas ornaments. Elizabeth Quintero, 23, also had a lot of fear about how she would get through the holiday season. Her husband, Brink's guard Anthony "Jimmy" Quintero, was killed in a robbery in September. Two suspects have been charged with murder in that case. But her own large family and her in-laws "surrounded us with love," Quintero said. "We weren't alone at all. Christmas went better than I expected." Destiny, 3, often looks at photos of her father and tells her mother that he is watching them from heaven, which she describes as a place inside the moon. "She gets on the play phone at day care and says she is talking to her daddy," Quintero said. "Then she hangs up and says that Daddy says he loves her. Every time she talks about him, it's with a smile."


Roniyah Mack, 5, lost her father twice -- to prison and then to homicide -- but she gets a big smile when she speaks of "my daddy in heaven." Ronald Mack Jr. was shot to death Oct. 6, less than two months after his release from state prison. The case remains unsolved. Roniyah treasures several letters that he wrote to her from prison. In the handwritten notes, he refers to her as "my princess" and "shining star." He promised to care for her. Roniyah keeps the letters in a special purple box and asks grown-ups to read them to her every so often. Jalen Bryant, 11, had six weeks to mourn the unsolved shooting death of "my best cousin," Wayne Gordon Jr., 18, killed Nov. 4 in East Oakland. "I wish I had one more time to play with him," Jalen said. "I can't believe he got shot. ... I just cried and cried." Then on Dec. 20, Anthony Johnson, the father of another cousin, was killed and Jalen spent the Christmas weekend helping to console other family members. "I really didn't want to expose him to this," said his mother, Omesa Ingram, who moved to Pittsburg three years ago from East Oakland. "I feel that to raise a young man, a black man, in Oakland is extremely hard and dangerous. There are too many young men hanging on corners and too much killing." Christmas was tricky also for Seretha Woodland and Precious Brewer. Woodland had already moved out of Oakland, partially because of safety concerns, even before her boyfriend, Purnell Brewer Sr., was killed Jan. 18. Their son, Purnell Jr., is now 17 months old. "I moved again before Christmas," said Woodland, who asked that the East Bay city where she now lives remain unpublished. "I didn't want to spend Christmas in the same house without him. All the memories -- it would just be too hard. I felt like we needed a fresh start." Woodland also spends most weekends with Purnell Jr.'s half-sister, Precious Brewer, 5, who lives with Brewer's parents in Oakland. Precious said she still has vivid memories of "my daddy" and frequently wonders about him. Woodland tells Precious stories about her father's kindness and sense of humor, but she sometimes has to fight back tears while recounting memories. Each child and adult may respond differently to trauma, counselors said, and each may respond better to a different treatment. "In many cases, the whole family should come in and be evaluated," said Dr. Herb Schreier, a psychiatrist at Children's Hospital Oakland who has worked with many kids traumatized by violence. "There's no simple answer. The evaluation has to be done on the whole family system."


Asha Parvins didn't lose a parent, but the unsolved killing of her uncle has haunted her for more than four years. She was 13 when Daniel Knowell was killed in West Oakland on May 5, 2002. "He was really more like a big brother than an uncle," said Asha. "He was the main role model in my life. I saw him almost every day. He told me how to take care of myself around boys. He warned to 'stay smart' and would get down on me when I messed up." Asha had nightmares for years. Now a senior at Piedmont High School, she said her dreams about him recently changed: "They are sweet but sad." "I dream that he is still there, watching me grow up into a woman, making jokes with me," Asha said. "Then I wake up and I realize he's dead. I get real sad." E-mail Jim Zamora at CORRECTION
-- A story in Tuesday's paper about homicides in Oakland misidentified a song Lorrain Taylor wrote in memory of her slain sons. The song is "Take a Stand." A photo caption with the story misidentified Wayne Gordon Jr. His mother, Jacqueline Dunbar, who appeared in one of the photos, was misidentified in a story published Dec. 2. (12/21/06, P. A2)