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Dispatch: 'I held his head and said a prayer with him, asking God to save him'

Crime scene: Dontae Cotton collapsed in his family's front yard early in the morning Sunday, Jan. 24. Credit: Katie Schaufelberger

Linda Henderson and her daughter, Krystle, were in bed watching a Lifetime movie together when they heard gunshots shortly after midnight on Sunday, Jan. 24. Less than half an hour earlier, Henderson’s 28-year-old son, Dontae Cotton, had left the house to make a trip to a liquor store down the street.

She ran outside to find him on the ground, mortally wounded. In the yard of their home on the 1600 block of West 60th Place in Harvard Park, Henderson held her son until the paramedics arrived.

“He said he thought he was going to die,” she said. “I held his head and said a prayer with him, asking God to save him. He started screaming when they put him on the stretcher.”

Remembering that night, the 51-year-old Henderson was dazed and close to tears.

“I just can’t believe my son is gone,” she said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do without him.”

Dontae Cotton, 28. Credit: Family photoLos Angeles Police Det. Doug Pierce said that Cotton and a friend were walking home from the store when the shooting occurred. The shooter drove by in a white sedan and fired several shots. One bullet struck Cotton, a black man, in the lower back as he walked across his lawn to the side door of the house.

“This family is taking it the hardest I’ve seen,” said Pierce. “A lot of times I see anger, but with them it’s just total sadness.”

Pierce said the shooting appeared to be gang-related, but that Cotton was not a known gang member. “It seems typical of the drive-bys we see,” he said. It may have been a case of mistaken identity or a random shooting, the detective said. Police have no description of the killer.

Cotton’s family said that he had never been involved with gangs and he rarely even socialized outside the house.

“He was never a street kid,” said Krystle Henderson, 22. “He liked to stay around home.”

His father, Reginald Eli Cotton, 54, had separated from his mother and did not live with the family, but he was close to his son. He described Cotton as a quiet man with a playful sense of humor.

“He was always cracking jokes for his sisters and making faces,” he said.

Cotton moved to the house on West 60th Place with his mother and sisters when he was 14. He graduated from Crenshaw High School in 1999.

He worked as a security guard but had been laid off several months ago. Linda Henderson said her son had become even more of a homebody as he looked for jobs online.

“He didn’t like me to see him down or depressed,” she said. “He was hopeful.”

His mother and sister described Cotton as the man of the house, who took care of his two younger sisters, fixed broken household items and always put his mother first.

“He was a mama’s boy,” Linda Henderson said.

Krystle Henderson, 22, at her family's home. Photos of her brother are displayed on the coffee table. Credit: Katie SchaufelbergerHe often picked up his youngest sister, Kendria, 15, from school and liked to draw and play video games with his siblings.

“We always looked up to him,” said Krystle Henderson. “And he always watched out for us.”

Linda Henderson said she worries for her daughters, living on the land that became her son’s killing ground. 

“I think about it, but what can I do?” she said. “I can’t live in fear.”

--Katie Schaufelberger USC’s Neon Tommy/Annenberg Digital News

Photo, top: Crime scene, Dontae Cotton collapsed in his family's front yard early in the morning Sunday, Jan. 24. Credit: Katie Schaufelberger. Middle: Cotton, 28, pictured in a family photo. Bottom: Krystle Henderson, 22, at her family's home. Pictures of her brother are displayed on the coffee table. Credit: Katie Schaufelberger

Editors' note: The Times and Annenberg Digital News at USC's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism have begun a collaboration on the Homicide Report. Our hope is that this will provide readers with more frequent dispatches from the field, as well as give student journalists valuable crime-reporting experience. — Megan Garvey / Los Angeles Times and Alan Mittelstaedt / Annenberg Digital News.

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