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Dispatch: 'It was broad daylight. It just don’t get more blatant'

Charles Montgomery's aunt, Ida Byas, holds up a photo of her slain nephew and his cousin Eve Smith. Credit: Andrew Khouri

Charles Montgomery was born in the back room of his grandparents’ house on the 400 block of E. 104th St. in the Green Meadows neighborhood of South Los Angeles. Twenty-four years later he died on that very street, a few houses down, shot on his way home from the store in the early afternoon, his family said.

He was on an errand for his grandfather, Willie L. Byas.

“It happened right out there, on the street,” Byas said as he looked out the window toward the location where his grandson was killed. “I heard the noise and everything.”

“I am really hurting.... I’ll never forget him,” he said.

Charles Montgomery's grandfather, Willie L. Byas, grandmother, Ida Mae Byas, and cousin, Kali Kellup, at their home not long after his killing. Credit: Andrew KhouriMontgomery, a 24-year-old black man, was shot several times in his upper body about 2 p.m. Friday, Jan. 15 by a man who approached him on foot, police said. Montgomery died at the scene.

Police believe the killing was most likely gang-related due to recent gang-related incidents in the area, said Det. Sal LaBarbera of the LAPD’s Criminal Gang Homicide Unit.  Montgomery was not a known gang member, LaBarbera said.

Police said they have no suspects and no witnesses have come forward.

“It was broad daylight — it just don’t get more blatant,” said Kali Kellup, Montgomery’s  cousin. ”Somebody saw something.”

Raised by his grandparents, who have lived on the block for more than 50 years, Montgomery was known to be “happy go-lucky” and constantly in motion. His family said he had the mental state of a child; he was afflicted with an unknown mental condition that doctors could not diagnose.

“He was always happy, always laughing about something,” Kellup said. “Even if you didn’t know what it was, he was laughing about something.”

Montgomery still had moments of sharpness, his aunt Ida Byas said.

“He could play dominoes like it was nobody’s business. He knew how to count around the board real quick, but then other times when you ask him something he couldn’t tell you,” Byas said. “He couldn’t tell you his birthday if you asked him.”

Growing up, Montgomery spent much of his time down the street at Southside Bethel Baptist Church, where he attended services with his grandmother and sang tenor in the church choir as a child.

“We knew he was different than most of us, and we took care of him,” Pastor Frederick E. Howard said. “We loved him a little bit more.”

As a teenager, Montgomery spent two years at juvenile hall before being charged as an adult with assault with intent to commit a felony, assault with a deadly weapon, kidnapping, and attempted forcible rape, according to court documents.

In 2003, two years after he was taken into custody, his court-appointed attorney agreed to a plea on his behalf. Montgomery was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon, and the other charges were dropped, according to court records. Montgomery was sentenced to two years in state prison; however, he was given over two years of credit for time in custody and good behavior and was released, according to court records.

His attorney, Andrew Thorpe, did not return calls seeking comment.

His family said his mental struggles only worsened after his time at juvenile hall.

“It kind of blew his mind some,” Ida Mae Byas, Montgomery’s grandmother said.

Kellup said he believed his cousin was innocent.

“He was basically a fall guy,” he said. “It was a travesty of justice.”

A search of Los Angeles County court records found no criminal charges against Montgomery after his time in juvenile hall.

Both his pastor and family described Montgomery as nonviolent and his death as a tragedy.

Makeshift memorial near site of Montgomery's shooting. Credit: Andrew KhouriFamily and friends have placed candles at a memorial near the site of Montgomery’s death.

“It was senseless what happened. Charlie didn’t bother anybody,” Howard said.

The killing shocked both family members and neighbors who believed their block of mostly older residents and families was immune from gang violence. “Just this little section … was considered neutral territory,” Kellup said.

“I wish they’d stop the killing,” Montgomery’s grandmother said. "Young people killing one another for no reason at all."

-- Andrew Khouri USC’s Neon Tommy/Annenberg Digital News

Photos: Top. Charles Montgomery's aunt, Ida Byas, holds a photo of her slain nephew and his cousin, Eve Smith. Middle: Montgomery's grandfather, Willie L. Byas, grandmother, Ida Mae Byas, and cousin, Kali Kellup, at their home not long after his killing. Bottom: Makeshift memorial near site of Montgomery's shooting. Credit: Andrew Khouri

Editors' note: This post marks the start of a collaboration on the Homicide Report between The Times and Annenberg Digital News at USC's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. 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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