A story for every victim

Bullets cut short a promising young football player's dream of an NFL career

Flowers from the funeral wilted on the kitchen table as a mother and father spoke of their son in the past tense.

Elijah Galbreath, 16, was a fast and fearless football player who was gearing up for his first game at Augustus F. Hawkins High School. His last text to his father was a reminder that he needed cleats.

On Sunday, Sept. 27, his mother asked him to clean his room. He did, then left his home in Watts.

Timeca Person-Galbreath can’t stop thinking about hearing the gate closing, then about 15 minutes later, neighbors summoning her outside.

“They shot your baby,” they said.

Elijah had been walking down East 103rd Street toward his home when a car pulled up and a person got out and shot him. His body lay in front of a church until paramedics came.

Elijah was pronounced dead exactly three hours after a 39-year-old man died after being shot in a neighboring housing development. In Elijah’s death, three men have pleaded not guilty. The defendants, none of them older than 21, are all alleged gang members from the Watts area. Police are still investigating whether the two shootings are connected.

Los Angeles is seeing an increase in homicides this year, but Watts has remained an exception. The two killings brought back a violent deja vu of police on every corner and mothers afraid to go outside.

Elijah’s father, Moran Galbreath, said that his son’s killing is a reminder of how quickly things can escalate in the housing projects in Watts. About a block from his home is Jordan Downs, home of the Grape Street Crips. Another project, Nickerson Gardens, is home to the Bounty Hunter Bloods, and historically the two gangs are rivals.

“The smallest little thing can set them off,” said Galbreath, who said his son wasn’t involved in gangs.

Andre “Lowdown” Christian, who grew up in Watts and facilitates a group that works with fathers in Jordan Downs, said that Elijah’s death had shaken the community, especially because he was a promising teenager, one whose dream was to become an NFL player.

But, he said, it’s inspiring people to try to make a change in their community.

“It’s making people want to do something different,” he said.

Marco Navarrete was one of Elijah’s coaches during his two years at South East High School, before he transferred to his new school. He said that Elijah — also known as “Lightning” because of how fast he could run — was special.

“He was one of those kids, he had a significant amount of talent,” he said.

Navarrete, who also grew up in South L.A., sometimes gives student athletes a ride home.

After the shooting, he said, several students asked him to wait until they get through their front gates before he drives off.

“It’s sad that you can’t even walk around your neighborhood at times,” he said.

The threat of violence was why Elijah’s mother, Timeca, had her boys play sports. When she heard gunshots in the area, she would call Elijah or his brother to make sure they were OK.

Timeca wanted Elijah to be on the streets he had grown up on one last time. On the day he was buried, a horse-drawn carriage pulled Elijah’s casket from his home to the shooting scene, then to Beulah Baptist Church.

Mourners filled the pews, crowded the perimeter of the church and lined up outside to say goodbye to “King Yella,” a nickname his friends and family had given him.

His current and former teammates walked to the casket. The composure that some had held so tightly for the service collapsed; as they walked away, tears ran down their faces.

After seeing the casket, a bulky young man wearing a white jersey with the number 3 sat in the front row, sobbing.

Others walked by and gave him a gentle pat on the head, a gesture of comfort for a teenager who just wanted his friend back.

Contact the Homicide Report. Follow @nicolesantacruz and @latimeshomicide on Twitter.

Photo:  Pastor Mike Cummings, right, reaches out to comfort Timeca Person-Galbreath and Moran Galbreath, center, parents of 16-year-old Elijah Galbreath, as they gather at Beulah Baptist Church for his funeral. Credit: Brian van der Brug, Los Angeles Times

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