A story for every victim

Man's death touches 'an entire community,' father says

Rodney Hamilton prayed for peace while cradling his 28-year-old son's head. As he knelt in the street, blood began to pool around his knees.

He tried to get his son to pray with him, but Rhasson Hamilton could only gasp a few words.

"I asked if he could speak, but he struggled to get the words out. He just looked up at the sky," Rodney Hamilton said. "That was the last time I saw him."

The sound of sirens got closer that fall night, and family members kept a lookout for the ambulance. Neighbors stood in doorways, watching a father's last moments with his son.

Rhasson Eugene Hamilton died in a hospital operating room at 10:05 p.m. Oct. 4.

That night, Rhasson had been celebrating the 44th birthday of his cousin Julian Warren, watching USC football and eating chicken wings with family and friends.

The group took a break after the Trojans lost to take photos outside and prepare for cake. Rhasson, who planned to go out with his girlfriend later, walked away from the crowd to his father's truck to grab a change of clothes. It was about 9 p.m.

The others headed back inside and gathered to sing "Happy Birthday." Warren leaned in over the cake, decorated with candles, and took a deep breath. Two gun shots rang out.

"They were loud pops like firecrackers," Warren said. "I told everyone to get on the ground. I waited about a minute, and then I went outside."

Warren spotted his cousin lying in the street next to the truck.

"I ran out to him and asked him if he was all right, but he was silent. That's when I realized he had been hit."

Police, who are seeking witnesses, say at least two people walked up to Rhasson that night. They described him as an innocent victim.

Rhasson grew up in the Green Meadows neighborhood of South L.A. Although the area has its problems with gangs, Hamilton's parents were close to their son and always encouraged him to focus on school. He played linebacker at Locke High School. In 2002, The Times wrote that "athleticism is his strength."

But music was his passion. Rhasson liked to create beats and his own mixes, a skill he gained from years of watching his father DJ at events. Rhasson performed at many local and family gatherings. His mother said he loved slow jams and often borrowed his father's CDs.

"He had an ear for the oldies," Pamela Hamilton said. "He really loved the Isley Brothers."

Rodney Hamilton said that moments after doctors told him that his son didn't make it, he prayed with his pastor, then prepared to face those who were waiting for better news.

"I will never forget the moment I had to tell my family in the waiting room," Hamilton said. "Their screams were unreal."

Hamilton said he isn't angry at the people responsible for his son's death. "They don't know who they touched. They touched an entire community."

Rhasson has three children, ages 10, 6 and 3. He would have turned 29 two weeks after the shooting, and his family had planned to celebrate with a party on the beach.

"It's just turf wars out here," said his cousin Warren, whose birthday they were celebrating that night.

Warren has lived in Manchester Square, where the killing happened, for three years. He knows that people have been killed down the block, and he's used to hearing gunfire.

"People shooting each other and now they think they got one. But they didn't. He was not in a gang. He was just living his life."

On the porch of his home, he braced himself against the railing, looking into the distance as he talked about Rhasson.

"We used to do everything together," he said. "Now my birthday will never be the same."

Anyone with information is asked to call the LAPD Criminal Gang Homicide Division at (213) 485-4341. Those who wish to remain anonymous can call Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-8477.

-- Jerome Campbell

Photos: (Top) Rhasson Hamilton, who was killed in October, left behind his large family, including his mother, Pamela, left; father, Rodney; nephews Ramon and Caleb at right, and three young children. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times. (Middle) Rhasson Hamilton. Credit: Family photo.

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