A story for every victim

A mother's story: My son was killed a year ago; the gunman is still at large

My husband, Richard, and our two daughters, Nicole and Andrea, received the news surrounded by extended family and loving friends. A social worker and two emergency room doctors interrupted the hushed, prayerful quiet of the emergency area, all decorated for Halloween, at Huntington Memorial Hospital. There was nothing more to be done.

Respectfully, the hospital staff exited, giving our little disbelieving band time to process our harsh truth. Christopher Richard Walker, 26, the eldest of three and my only son, had been shot about 4:30 that afternoon. He had been waiting for a hamburger at a fast-food stand in Altadena, just five minutes from our home. Then he was gone.

Almost a year has passed as we wait for the responsible person or persons to be arrested. We wait for police updates. We wait for someone from our community to come forward with information about a crime that occurred in broad daylight. We wonder why this happened, and we wait for the killing of others to stop.

An early introduction to gangs

Riding home from the hospital after the tragic news, my mind wandered to days past. When Christopher was 5, Richard and I signed him up for a local tee-ball program. As Christopher later explained, many of the park’s volunteer coaches had past gang attachments — and some apparently were still “putting in work.” Without our knowledge, our son was secretly groomed, stripped of his innocence and molded into a “little Crip.”

Our family had been active in our local church, and Christopher had been involved with our area’s Boy Scout troop. He played baseball and attended private school. We learned of his double life as a member of the Altadena Blocc Crips after he finished sixth grade.

At age 11, he angrily advised us of his “new family” and boasted of a passion for certain territorial streets. Bragging about his moniker “C-Madness,” he spoke of some of his gang-influenced choices.

Shocked and confused, Richard and I declared war against the mentality that attacked our son. To our parenting strategy, we added gang intervention, family and mental health counseling, additional music lessons, different sports leagues, minister mentoring, drug rehab and AA meetings. We arranged for new friendships and even welcomed police officer visits. But these scrimmages were lost — Christopher was in the court system by age 13 and would spend the next five years in corrective programs.

'A light turned on'

Thankfully, a light turned on when Christopher was 19; he began to realize the impact of his earlier decisions and chose to move to Arizona. While living on his own there, the influence of his past faded, as demonstrated in a portion of a letter written to us:  

“At 20 years old, I now realize that I still have a long life ahead. I see a lot of positive things happening and look forward to getting older. As a result of my choices, my life has been in danger on numerous occasions. However, I now have a job … and goals and dreams never before imagined.”

As an adult, Christopher held steady employment and became a concerned and loving father who checked his 5-year-old daughter’s backpack for homework assignments and offered his 10-year old daughter daily volleyball tips.

Our Prodigal Son had returned, emerging as a man in whom we found great pride.

Though we had cause to rejoice over those victories, on the night of Oct. 30, 2014, we lost the war — one we thought was over.

All of society suffers when evil is unleashed to dissolve unsuspecting citizens into thin air. Homicide leaves family and friends with an immeasurable sense of loss. Christopher’s children lost their father; an employer lost a dedicated worker; his community lost a good neighbor; his landlord lost a responsible tenant; the marketplace lost a productive consumer.

'A haunting question'

With Christopher’s killer still at large, a haunting question remains unanswered:  Who could have so coldly turned a finally realized dream into a parent’s worst nightmare?  

About midnight on the night Christopher died, two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department detectives stood at our door. One carried a small brown paper bag. It contained Christopher’s camouflage-colored wallet and his cellphone. We sat in silence as they offered a few facts of the case. It’s difficult to remember everything, but I distinctly recall assurances of a speedy resolution.  

A year later, no one has been arrested.

And our follow-up calls to law enforcement about every two weeks are brief and mostly unsatisfying. During my last call, the response was a hurried promise of a call back; the officers were about to sit down with the family of yet another homicide victim.

My return call has not come. A year from now, will that family, like me, be questioning why the crime against their loved one is unsolved?

At a community gathering marking the six-month anniversary of Christopher’s killing, the Rev. Hannah Petrie urged the community to speak up.

“We each have a role to play,” said the leader of Pasadena’s Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church.

She’s right. Even in cases where dozens of people see a crime, law enforcement has trouble getting witnesses to talk

A plea for accountability

Passivity masks the issues and allows killers to go free. A U.S. Bureau of Justice report shows that most killing is intraracial. From 1980 to 2008, 84% of white victims were killed by whites; and 93% of black homicide victims died at the hands of other blacks. Yet high-profile killings of black men by police are always guaranteed to spark angry protests and sometimes court proceedings.

But who will speak for the hundreds of Christophers lying in our nation’s graves? In the aftermath of a killing comes this sincere plea for accountability: Perpetrators must and can be stopped with the help of willing witnesses who end the too-common shrugged shoulders and silence.

Until then, how many more will we bury? How many more killers will walk free?

Ursula Denise Walker is a wife, a mother of three, a grandmother, and an office manager for a Los Angeles consulting firm. She is the author of an inspirational book of poetry, “Alive! Reconnected & Revived,” published last year.

Photo: Christopher Walker at work.

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