By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
By Joe Eskenazi
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
Police say both brothers' shootings are still under investigation, an assertion that makes Lela burn. "They just full of shit," Lela says, echoing the sentiment of many back in Vis Valley who continue to be plagued by black-on-black shootings and murders. The case "wouldn't never open. ... They don't care about our kids." Denied the opportunity to see justice in the court system, Lela and Devron say God will handle it in the afterlife.
Lela says she thanks God every day for giving her back her sons, whom she calls "blessings." Though she says the last two years have made her stronger, her emotions are still fragile, shell-shocked. After talking too long about the shootings, she asks to stop: "It's starting to hit me." A violent movie or kids playing basketball in a park will bring tears. She fills the still-frequently sleepless nights with reading the Bible, and Mable notices she'll grow pensive at barbecues, her mind pulled far away from the here and now.
"She's more to herself," says a friend, Sheila Hill. "If she'd don't already know you, you won't get to know her."
Growing tired of being isolated from her friends and the more-than-three-hour commute each day from Stockton to the city to drive Tomone back to his old high school, Lela moved the family to Antioch with the help of a Section 8 voucher in July. Now living in a two-story house in a subdivision of tract homes, the family enjoys the trappings of suburban life even while Lela is surviving paycheck to paycheck as she continues to pay off hospital bills. Lela bowls on Sundays, Tomone transferred to Deer Valley High School in town, and Devron plays video games upstairs, ignoring the irony of occasionally pumping people full of bullets in Grand Theft Auto. Like the majority in the bedroom community she describes as "peaceful," Lela commutes — 40 minutes to the Boys and Girls Club Treasure Island Clubhouse, where she returned to work this summer.
With Lela's financial constraints, the living room is mostly bare except for two bookshelves hosting Lela's doll collection and Tomone's wheelchair parked at the bottom of the stairwell, where he gets out and uses his arms to scoot up the steps.
Of course some things never change. Devron still rolls blunts, even though a doctor denied his plea for medical marijuana. He walks the empty sidewalk along a busy four-lane road to buy cigars at Gas City as if it were the corner store back on the block. One of his Maf members, James Mackey, another refugee from the city's violence, is just a short walk away.
However, not all is calm in Antioch. A 16-year-old boy was shot to death in the movie theater parking lot just blocks away from Lela's house in March. It's part of the increase in crime seen by police in recent years as some people moving to the relatively affordable town from the inner city have brought their old lifestyles with them. Still, it's nothing compared with Vis Valley, Devron says: "There's nothing in that area but death."
Devron is used to being treated like "the angel on the block" when he goes back to visit — the kid who wasn't supposed to make it — but B-Low seemed especially focused on death the last time he saw him this summer.
Devron remembers the exchange like this:
"I'm so happy to see you, I thought you was gone," B-Low said, bringing up the shooting.
"I ain't gone. I'm right here, man," Devron said.
"Yeah, I'm happy to see you, bro, because I'd rather you be at my funeral than me be at yours. I want to see you at my funeral."
"I don't give a damn what's going on in your mind right now, don't ever say that to me. If it happen, I'm gonna snap and not care about nuttin. Shootin' people I don't even have business bein' shootin'. And then I'm gonna die."
"Don't trip," B-Low said. "I just want to see you at my funeral."
"I'll be there, bro. But don't say that."
Bogart, Devron's older brother who hung out with B-Low more than Devron, would later say that that was something B-Low always said to his younger friends, just a passing pleasantry in an area where violence is commonplace. But it was the first time he'd ever said it to Devron. Devron thought it was odd to talk so casually about your own funeral, but left it at that.
By the time Lela drove up 20 minutes late to the Fillmore church in August, only a few stragglers still hung outside the doors. The black hearse and two limos gleamed in the sunlight, and a pair of police officers stood across the street, eying the mourners as they entered — teenagers in recently printed R.I.P. T-shirts, little girls in billowy princess dresses.
The prophetic B-Low was shot down on Sunnydale Avenue around 12:50 p.m. on Aug. 2 while walking home from work at Goodwill. He spotted two men squatting behind a car, and rung a friend to report them. Seconds later, the shots started. He ran a block before collapsing inside the Britton Court Apartments complex where he lived, just a block away from Lela's old apartment. The police are still investigating, but word from many on the block is that he was a random target in a decades-old feud between Sunnydale and the guys who still associate themselves with the defunct Geneva Towers. B-Low was 29.