A story for every victim

Postscript: Catching up with Bijan Shoushtari's family a year later

Each time I drive north on Crenshaw Boulevard, near Leimert Park, I think of Bijan Shoushtari, an 18-year-old who was gunned down in the area.

Last year, days after Bijan died, I found myself on his family’s Hyde Park doorstep, wanting to know as much as I could about the teenager.

As I sat at a wooden table near their kitchen, the Shoushtaris, surrounded by family and friends, shared details, big and small, about Bijan. He was a football team captain, an acolyte at church and an aspiring firefighter. He was great at cartwheels, one of his chores was taking out the trash and though he was the youngest child, he served as protector to his sisters Ea, 21, and Samantha, 27.

As I took notes with my left hand, I pinched my leg with my right hand as my throat tightened and tears tried to make their way to my eyes.

This is a two-parent household. Samantha graduated from Loyola-Marymount in 2010. Ea is attending Pepperdine. Bijan's father, Manochehr came to the U.S. from Tehran for college. He and Marsha will celebrate their 31st wedding anniversary in September. They had done everything right. This still happened to them.

In the time since Bijan was killed, more than 530 people have become homicide victims in Los Angeles County. About 74% of them were shot, like Bijan was. About 30% of them were black. Sixty of the victims, 11%, were teenagers. If you look at a map of the killings, most take place where they have taken place for years, in neighborhoods that some Los Angeles residents have never driven through.

On Sunday, I found myself on the doorstep of the Shoushtari home again. It was the anniversary of the shooting – which is unsolved – and I was there to catch up with the family before an evening vigil in  Leimert Park.

The house, like last year, was filled with friends and family. Music played and hugs were exchanged. On the wall, Bijan’s Hamilton High football jersey hangs, with signatures surrounding the number 10. A stack of fliers offering a $50,000 reward sat on the coffee table. They would be passed out that night.

Marsha Jones-Shoushtari, along with her close friends and family, all wore green T-shirts, with “Stop the v10lence, Save lives” on the front. (The 10 in violence stands for Bijan's jersey number.)

In the past year, Marsha has gone to Capitol Hill to talk about her experience. She hopes to start a nonprofit aimed at curbing violence, so there are “no more Bijans,” as she told me.

Starting the movement is difficult because the problems are so deep, her friends and family told me. How do you show someone that life is worth living when they are surrounded by so much death?

Marsha told me that she used to watch television news and feel bad for the mothers and family members grieving on television. But she had no connection to the violence until the unexpected killing of Bijan.

“I was passive, now I want to be aggressive,” she told me.

Now, certain situations give Marsha pause. On Saturday, her daughter, Ea, was at a friend’s house. Ea would have to drive home, Marsha thought, and what if she drives past where Bijan was killed?

“What is to prevent her from being shot tonight,” she wondered.

Robert Holeman, 24, a big-brother figure to Bijan, explained the enduring pain he feels to me. 

Bijan had been accepted to a fire academy at El Camino College, a profession that would ultimately help other people. Holeman saw Bijan maturing into a man, but that growth was forever stunted.

“It hurt because he never got the chance to grow that much more,” he told me Sunday.

Bijan had just experienced many firsts. He had his first girlfriend, his first trip to prom and he had recently gotten his driver’s license. He had his life ahead of him.

Right now, Marsha told me, he would be finishing up his first year of college. He would be excited about it, so he would take summer school and he would have been working a part-time job.

What stands out is how the experience has turned Bijan’s friends and family – many of whom have never experienced a violent death – into crusaders for peace.  At the vigil Sunday night, about 100 people gathered. Marsha implored the crowd to step up, and get involved.

“I didn’t think it could happen to me but it did,” she said. “It can happen in the day, it can happen in the night.”

Friends and family urged people to sign up for their campaign to stop the violence. Friends and teammates of Bijan – bulky teenagers with tears streaming down their faces – recalled why Bijan was special.

Near the end of the vigil, Marsha spoke again. She thanked the people who came out.

“I know my son lived the life of love,” she said. 

-- Nicole Santa Cruz

Photo, top:  Lauran Smith joins a gathering of family and friends at the Shoushtari family home on Aug. 3. Photo, right: Marsha Jones-Shoushtari holds a locket with Bijan's photo inside. Credit: Luis Sinco, Los Angeles Times

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