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A fresh start cut short; mother wonders if her son's killing will go unsolved

Desiree Peters sat on a couch in the Inglewood apartment she’s lived in since 1999.  On the coffee table were dozens of photos of Akeem Dashawn Leggins, her 23-year-old son who was shot and killed two days before.

There was a picture of 8-year-old Leggins, clad in a blue tuxedo and lifting his leg into a karate kick. One of him smiling in a cap and gown in 2005, when he graduated from middle school. A more recent photo showed Leggins during his son’s first Christmas with yet another smile.

Leggins had celebrated a birthday two days before he was killed. That night, he had donned a new outfit and gone on a date to see “About Last Night.” The birthday cake his mother baked – chocolate with yellow frosting – sat in the refrigerator, the leftovers untouched.  

Although his birthday was simple, it was emblematic of the way Leggins had started living. Gone were the days of getting into trouble. Now, life was about his son and completing a job training program. He had started cooking more often and would whip up pancakes. He had learned how to fry chicken.  

“I knew Akeem had changed when he started wearing clothes that fit him,” Peters said. 

He could be found on the apartment-filled block where he grew up, telling the "youngsters," as he called them, to stay out of trouble.

In this neighborhood, Leggins had become accustomed to being approached by gang members and had told his mother he had no choice but to associate with them.

Peters isn't sure she’ll ever know who killed her son. Her brother Otis Peters Jr. was killed in the mid-1980s outside a liquor store at 89th Street and South Vermont Avenue. The killing remains unsolved. 

“People aren’t going to say anything because they’re scared,” she said about her son’s killing. “You keep your mouth closed.”

This year, Inglewood has seen a jump in homicides. So far this year, seven people have been killed in the city, according to the most recent figures provided by the Los Angeles County coroner’s office. At this time last year, no one had been killed in the city, though by the end of 2013, 17 people had, according to the L.A. Times' Homicide Report.

Peters said she has noticed more roadside memorials popping up all over town. 

The day Leggins was killed, he asked his mother’s advice on what to wear to a job training program.

She picked a light-colored dress shirt and a sweater. The other shirt she had considered was still on top of his bed along with his homework in his bedroom, where basketball jerseys were tacked onto the wall and a child’s toys spilled out of the closet. 

Leggins had been playing "World of Warcraft" that day, and had left the laptop open with the game on when he left the house.

She thinks he was on his way back when he was shot about 5:25 p.m. at a bus stop at West Beach Avenue and Venice Way.

Peters came home from her job as a customer service supervisor in downtown Los Angeles to the open laptop, music flowing from the speakers. 

“He thought he was coming right back,” she said.

-- Nicole Santa Cruz

Top photo: Leggins with his son during the baby's first Christmas. Bottom photo: Leggins, 8, does a karate kick after an elementary school event. Credits: Desiree Peters

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