Compton activist offers her own money to find nephew's killer
When Kevin Norwood was shot to death at the Compton Flea Market in 1989, he was just 18. “I lost my mind,” says his mother, Rita Norwood Belfry, pounding on doors around her Compton neighborhood, trying to flush out her son’s killer.
Then Belfry’s 18-year-old nephew Deon, whom she raised as a son, was killed in a drive-by shooting the following year. “We had to replace my son’s headstone with a double headstone for him and my nephew.”
Belfry, a community activist best known as Ms. Ritta, has known many other shooting victims in the 40 years she’s lived in Compton, but the final straw came July 12, when Darrell “Shadow” Hines, another nephew she raised from age 8, was shot and killed at Caress Avenue and Marcelle Street, just a few blocks from her home.
Hines, 38, had just left a vigil for Travione Mason, a 27-year-old man who grew up in the same neighborhood and was killed July 11 while he was catering a party in Westmont.
Her nephew went to the vigil out of respect, Belfry said, to light a candle for his former neighbor, who had one child and another on the way. And as Hines sat in his car preparing to drive away, someone walked up to the front passenger door and shot him dead.
“This is where it stops,” Belfry said.
She went on: “I want justice. I want his killer in court before the streets get him. To be murdered is too easy. I want to get him in court, so these people see what happens when you do things like this. I want him in court and then locked away for the rest of his life.”
Belfry is willing to put her own money behind making it happen. She’s holding a news conference at 11 a.m. Thursday at the site where Hines was killed because she wants to speak directly to the neighborhood. There were many people at the vigil that night, she said, and neighbors who probably knew Hines as a boy.
“I want witnesses. That’s all we need are witnesses,” she said. “I know they are homeowners around there, and can’t afford to move, and I know they’re afraid for their lives, but somebody has to talk. If people talk, and come out of their little shell, we can finally get some justice.”
Belfry borrowed money to remodel her home earlier this year, and Hines, well known for his skills in mechanics and carpentry, had started some work before he died. Now, Belfry says, she intends to take the money she was going to use on her home and offer it as a reward.
No one was ever arrested in the killing of her other nephew Deon. And although investigators believe more than one person was involved in the gunfire that killed her son, only one young man was charged, but that man spent just a year in jail, in part because no witnesses came forward, she said.
Nearly 400 people turned out for Hines’ funeral at Inglewood Memorial Park on July 25. The service lasted nearly three hours. Mourners remembered Hines as a warm-hearted and peaceful man who loved fishing, barbecuing and helping people as he could.
Hines had his time in a gang when he was young, Belfry said. He went to jail “for being stupid,” she said, and when he got out, he turned his life around, doing carpentry work with his motto, “Darrell Does It,” and opening a body shop called Luxury Custom with a longtime friend.
People spilled out of Belfry's home after the funeral, remembering how Hines tried to make people happy, and how he had started working with kids in the neighborhood, taking them fishing and trying to show them alternatives to gang life.
"What we have to do is reprogram our children's minds," Belfry said. "I don't own a gun or even touch a gun, but these people are shooting guns like it's a shooting range, and they don't care who they hit."
Photos: (Top) Darrell Hines' casket is moved into a hearse at Inglewood Memorial Park. (Bottom) Rita Norwood Belfry with other mourners at Hines' funeral. Credit: Jeanette Marantos / For The Times