A story for every victim

On the anniversary of one son's killing, a mother loses another son

Kenya Gatling knew teenagers kept secrets from their parents. But deep down, she felt her son was different.

At 18, Marshawn Jackson still greeted Gatling with kisses on both cheeks. The two talked about his love life and fears. And since his brother, Deshawn Dixon, was fatally shot in 2013, they had spent many nights crying together in his room.

“You wouldn’t expect a teenager to let his mom into his room, but he wanted me there,” said Gatling, 41. “There was very few things that we didn’t share with each other.”

That’s why she couldn’t understand why Marshawn Jackson had decided not to attend a memorial on the anniversary of his brother’s death Aug. 27.

“He said that he had to be somewhere at two o’clock, and I kept thinking, that’s not like him,” Gatling said. “I pressed him on it. He knew it was important, the one day out of the year that we all needed to be together. But he kept saying he has to be somewhere else.”

Two hours after their conversation, she received a call that her son had been shot on Parmelee Avenue in unincorporated Florence-Firestone.

On the day of the shooting, Gatling had deja vu from the yellow tape at the crime scene. When the police did not direct her to a hospital to find her son, she knew he was dead.

“I hadn’t finished grieving Deshawn when this happened. Not even close,” Gatling said. “Both of us still cried sometimes, but we had each other. Now I’ll be alone at home sometimes and the feelings can be too much.”

Gatling held onto her son just a little bit tighter after Dixon’s death, trying to keep Jackson around the house.

But Jackson eventually wore her down. She bought him a phone to check in. He would lose it. She would always buy another.

And if he ever missed a call from his mother, his father, Marvin Jackson, would be sure to follow up in minutes. Marshawn had lived with Marvin Jackson for two years and had picked up an interest in playing the drums.

“The loss of Deshawn made me a little more cautious for Marshawn. I was on top of everything he did,” Marvin Jackson, 54, said. “I didn’t like him walking through the neighborhood. Especially after seeing all the killings on TV. But he was growing up. What could you do?”

Marvin Jackson thought he had managed the grief until he attended church the Sunday after Marshawn Jackson’s death. He broke into tears in the middle of service and the pastor came up and prayed for him.

“Marshawn had such big dreams. One day, he wanted to be in the Army. The next, he wanted to be pastor,” said Marvin Jackson. “I was excited to see how his life would play out. Now, they’ll just stay dreams.”

Gatling has tried to watch TV for small breaks from the grief. A small shrine for her sons sits just out of view from her armchair. Family members cleared out Marshawn’s room after the shooting. Gatling moved in.

“This house is so depressing. I can’t get away from the memories,” Gatling said. “But I can sort of still feel his presence in his room.”

Home movies can be a respite. Gatling recalled one video she recorded in which Deshawn and Marshawn play in a pool. The boys call out for their mother while waving to the camera. Sometimes she waves back.

Investigators do not know a motive for Jackson’s killing and have canvassed the neighborhood. Gatling says she is worried about what she might learn.

“I thought I would never find out what was so important Marshawn couldn’t come to his brother’s memorial, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried what I’ll find out about my baby,” Gatling said.

“But there is nothing my son could have done to be killed. Absolutely nothing.”

Contact the Homicide Report. And follow @latimeshomicide on Twitter.

Photo: Kenya Gatling, seen at home Sept. 23, has lost two sons to violence. Credit: Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times

Post a comment

Before you post, here are some answers to frequently asked questions:

Remember, all posts are approved by a Times staffer. Profanity and personal attacks will not be approved.


Three reader comments