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Mother of man killed in broad daylight: 'I just want the person who did this to be caught'

Hours after her only son had been fatally shot, Lenell Ellis drove to where he took his last steps, looking for something to ease her pain.

Ellis stepped out of her car and walked around a row of stores near West 55th Street and South Vermont Avenue.

“Even though it was late, I just had to see where my son had been killed,” she said.

There was no sign that Robert Ellis, 27, had been shot there earlier that day. No candles or flowers, and his blood had already been washed away.

“I just started thinking on my drive home, ‘What a shame that my baby is gunned down here like a dog in the street and they just wash him away like nothing,’” she said.

Police last week released surveillance footage and still photographs of the gunman. The L.A. City Council also recently approved a $50,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the killer.

“It’s a matter of the right person seeing [the footage] and calling us,” said Los Angeles Police Det. Eric Crosson. So far, Crosson said, witnesses have been reluctant to come forward.

About 2 p.m. on March 25, Robert Ellis had just stepped inside a barber shop in the plaza and walked back out. He was going to come back later for a haircut and started chatting with some people outside.

Surveillance footage shows the gunman in a gray hoodie running up, firing at least seven shots into the group, which included a toddler, and then running away.

From another angle, a surveillance camera shows frightened people ducking and running.

The area where Ellis was killed, Vermont-Slauson, is one of the more violent neighborhoods in South L.A., according to crime data compiled by the Los Angeles Times. In the last 12 months, 10 people have been killed in the neighborhood, according to coroner’s records.

After police released the surveillance footage, Yasha Vand, one of Ellis’ childhood friends, drove to the crime scene and spent about 30 minutes in the parking lot.

“I kind of replayed everything in my head,” he said.

The two had plans to hang out over the weekend, but instead, Vand, a licensed paramedic, spent his Friday night at the hospital at Ellis’ bedside.

“I’ve seen this stuff before. I've been around this field long enough,” he said. “But seeing my best friend intubated and lifeless, it was something I never thought I would envision.”

In the days before Ellis was killed, he shared with family and friends that he was going to be a father and asked a longtime friend, Haneef Munir, to be his child’s godfather.

Munir and other friends described Ellis as an outgoing man who made friends wherever he went. He was looking for a job and hoped to one day start a clothing line or obtain his barber's license.

“He was a really good guy and had a really good heart,” Munir said.

Crystal Baires, Ellis’ girlfriend, said he already had names picked out for their child. In hard times, he encouraged her to be positive.

“Any problem I had with my family, school, I would always go to Robert first. He would always bring me up,” she said.

Throughout her children’s lives, Lenell Ellis made an effort to keep them out of violent or dangerous neighborhoods. Aside from her full-time job as a sales representative, she also took side jobs, “so my kids could have everything they needed.”

Robert Ellis had recently moved into his late grandmother’s home, a few blocks from the shooting, to help his mother clean it out and sell it.

“I feel like I sent my son back into the murder zone,” she said.

Now she draws upon memories of her son, like the time last year when she threw him a surprise birthday party at a BJ’s restaurant in Torrance with a group of his closest friends from high school. Or how in 2006, when he graduated from Torrance High, she bought him a gray Ford Mustang that matched his sister’s car. He reacted with surprise.

“I just know that I’ll never ever be the same again,” she said. “I just want the person who did this to be caught.”

This weekend, Lenell Ellis will distribute reward fliers all over the city, an effort she says will continue until there’s an arrest.

The day after her first visit, she went back to the scene. This time, she took candles and flowers and placed them on the ground.

Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call Crosson at (323) 786-5113. Those who wish to remain anonymous can call Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-8477.

Photo, at top: Candles and flowers mark the spot where Robert Ellis, 27, was fatally shot. Credit: Courtesy of Lenell Ellis. Photo, above right: A still taken from surveillance footage shows a gunman fleeing the scene of Robert Ellis' fatal shooting March 25.

The Los Angeles Police Department released the above videos, taken from surveillance cameras at the scene of the shooting. 

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