Answers sought as shooting victim's family struggles to say goodbye
On Mother's Day, these mothers weren't celebrating. Instead, the women were standing in the streets of South L.A. carrying signs seeking donations for a "proper burial" for their 28-year-old sister.
Porche Charles had been shot to death a week earlier as she was celebrating her aunt's 70th birthday at a family gathering in Hyde Park.
The big boxing match between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao blared on two televisions while people helped themselves to barbecued chicken and ribs, black beans and rice, tamales and drinks. People flooded the house and the yard. At about 11:30, shots rang out from outside the fence.
Cheri Horta, Charles' aunt, shouted, "Is anybody hit?"
"I can't breathe," Charles said, stumbling to the side of the home. Her aunt looked for blood. There wasn't much. Someone got a pillow and slid it underneath Charles' head. She was taken to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
Charles grew up in a large family and had five sisters and three brothers. Though she was petite and thin, her personality — and her hugs — were big, family said.
In a corner of her home, Horta keeps a shrine to family members she has lost over the years. The turquoise shoes Charles wore that night are there.
"It's tearing me up that she died here on my birthday," Horta said.
Charles' family has more questions than answers. Detectives are in the same situation.
Police are trying to determine whether the shooting was random. Charles was not a gang member, said Los Angeles police Det. Connie Zych. She is pulling phone records and surveillance video to build her case.
Although the house had been full of people the night of the shooting, there were few witnesses. Zych is looking for more people to talk to.
"Everybody just heard shots," she said.
For family, the last few weeks have been filled with saying goodbye to Charles. There was a candlelight vigil, the fundraising in the streets, and days filled with planning the funeral.
On a recent afternoon, some of her sisters sat in a living room, trying to write the obituary that would summarize her life. One sister, Cresha Pree, said she was surprised at "how expensive it is to die." Her sister didn't have life insurance, and costs were piling up.
Vivian Lowe, who lives in Las Vegas but traveled to Los Angeles to plan her sister's funeral, said Charles "was my diary. I could tell her anything."
Rekita Charles, another sister, said the two were close in age. Soon after her sister died, she asked to see her one last time and was led to a small window at California Hospital.
"No one should have to see their loved ones like that," she said. "Not up laughing, walking around, but under a white sheet."
She pulled out a notebook to write the obituary. Inside was a brochure for a county program for families of victims of crime.
Cheshi Owens, a cousin, took the notebook and started writing. "We have the prayer, the praise," she said. "Oh, we need the song." Chatter interrupted the planning.
On Thursday, more than 100 people gathered to say goodbye to Charles at a mortuary in Lawndale. Friends and family wore purple, her favorite color. Her 8-year-old daughter sat in the front row.
Owens stood in front of a microphone and read the obituary. "Porche's life was spent on a quest for love and happiness," she said.
Arreonna Charles, 11, stood with her twin sister and addressed the killer.
"You didn't hurt my Auntie Porche — you hurt her family and friends."
Anyone with information is asked to call Zych at (323) 786-5113. Those who wish to remain anonymous can call Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-8477.
For the Record
An earlier version of this article gave an incorrect phone number for Det. Connie Zych. The correct number is (323) 786-5113.
Photo: Friends and family gathered Thursday for the funeral of Porche Charles, who was killed in a shooting May 3. Many mourners wore purple, her favorite color. Credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times