The evening of July 3, Otis Rayjon Williams left his family’s apartment in the Florence-Firestone area, headed for the store on the corner of Central Avenue and Century Boulevard.
His mother presumes that Otis, 14, took a shortcut through an alley, because that was where the police found him, fatally shot in the chest.
Otis was not a gang member, and Los Angeles County sheriff’s detectives have yet to identify any suspects or a motive, Lt. Derrick Alfred said last week.
The boy's killing came at the end of a violent week in South Los Angeles. Deshan Lamar Washington, 43, died the same day as Otis, a Friday, shot in the Imperial Courts housing project.
That Wednesday, July 1, Joel Vargas, 43, shot to death his 4- and 6-year-old daughters in Watts before turning the gun on himself.
A day earlier, Derek Wilson, 61, was parked on West 107th Street in Westmont, smoking a cigarette, when a man walked up to his car and shot him to death. Takiem Baxter, 25, was fatally shot the same day in Leimert Park.
Despite the week's bloodshed, homicides in areas under the sheriff's jurisdiction have remained stable: 100 this year compared with 98 at the same time last year. The Los Angeles Police Department has seen a 14% increase in homicides this year, according to department figures.
The killing of a 14-year-old boy, particularly one with no apparent gang ties, is disturbing, Otis' family and residents say. They wonder what, if anything, Otis had said or done to whoever killed him.
“It used to be you could say, ‘I don’t do that, I don’t gang bang,’ and they’d leave you alone,” said his father, who is also named Otis Williams. “I guess it’s not that way anymore.”
Otis was tall for his age, having hit a growth spurt when he turned 13. He was growing so fast, his father joked they had threatened to cut off his milk supply. Otis had finished junior high and would have started high school in the fall. He wasn’t particularly looking forward to it.
“He didn’t like school, I’m not going to tell no lies,” his mother, Francine Brazil, said in an interview. Like most kids his age, he chafed at curfews and pushed his parents’ limits.
“If I said, ‘Come home at 10,’ he’d come home at 12,” she said.
Otis and his family moved to the Florence-Firestone area about one year ago, to a first-floor apartment in a white stucco building on South Central Avenue. He didn’t know too many kids in the area, his mother said, and he often took the Metro to Norwalk, where they’d lived previously, to see his best friend.
Wayne Simpson, 68, lived two doors down from Otis. The boy was always courteous, Simpson said. He’d call Simpson’s wife “ma’am,” offer to take their trash bins to the curb, and when he was headed to the corner store, he’d ask if they wanted a soda, Simpson recalled.
“He was a very, very respectful guy,” Simpson said. “He didn't bother nobody, as far as I know."
Otis was on his way to the store the night he died.
It was a warm night and a short walk, just a couple of blocks, but his mother handed him a thermal on his way out the door.
She put on headphones and turned on Netflix. She never heard the gunshots.
Close to 9 p.m., neighbors knocked on her door. There was a body in an alley, surrounded by police and paramedics, and they had recognized the Nike sneakers that Otis kept bright white.
He was rushed to St. Francis Medical Center. The hospital staff guided his parents to "that little room, with the couches like in the movies," Brazil said, and a surgeon came in to affirm what they already knew.
Alfred, the sheriff’s lieutenant, said detectives have recovered video showing Otis walking in an alley between East 98th and East 99th streets, parallel to South Central Avenue. A car pulled up and someone inside it opened fire, he said.
Brazil hopes that someone will come forward with information about who killed her son. “People talk,” she said. “People brag.”
The day after Otis died, his mother and father walked to the alley. They cleaned up his blood, picked up the gloves and wrappings the paramedics had discarded, set up some candles and flowers. Then, they gathered up their things and moved in with Otis’ older sister in Palmdale, an hour’s drive north of Los Angeles.
“Seeing that every day,” Brazil said of the alley, “I don’t think we could ever heal.”
The Sheriff's Department has asked anyone with knowledge of Otis' killing to call the homicide bureau at (323) 890-5500.