A story for every victim

Victor Gadiel Ajaye McElhaney, 21

Victory McElhaney, a 21-year-old black man, was shot and killed Sunday, March 10, in the 200 block of East Adams Boulevard in Historic South-Central, according to Los Angeles County coroner’s records.

About 12:30 a.m., McElhaney and eight friends walked from a nearby home to a strip mall liquor store in the area, said Los Angeles police Capt. Billy Hayes.

After buying alcohol, the group was approached in the parking lot by three or four men. The men attempted to mug the group, and McElhaney was shot after likely objecting to the robbery, Hayes said.

The muggers fled in a car and no one else was hurt. McElhaney was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 3:12 a.m., according to coroner’s records.

McElhaney devoted most of his life to the intersection of community and music.

The 21-year-old son of Oakland Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney began playing drums before he could read. By the time he moved to Los Angeles in the fall of 2017 to study jazz at USC, he had made his mark on Oakland as a mentor to other young performers and an advocate for black lives, women and gun control.

Those close to McElhaney described him as a critical thinker who thrived off making people smile, and a goofy and animated humanitarian.

He was known for his big hugs and an intense love of percussion. He also believed in the power of music to bring people together.

“He thought it could heal the world,” said Alinzia Davenport, his godsister.

McElhaney was 11 years old when he started studying at the Oakland Public Conservatory of Music. Even at that young age, he displayed a deep passion for West African drumming, said Angela Wellman, the conservatory’s founding director.

He was soon a fixture at the conservatory, studying music after school, attending its summer academy and playing timbales on stage at Oakland's Art and Soul Music festival as part of the Frederick Douglass Youth Ensemble.

He absorbed wisdom from the elders in Oakland's African American community and became a teen mentor to younger kids at the conservatory, Wellman said.

McElhaney had a deep understanding of the historical significance of being an African American who played jazz, Wellman said, and “the importance and the depth of the rhythmic impulse of the music and where that comes from.”

“He represented the promise we hold for all our youth, particularly for our black youth,” she said.

Wellman advised a teenage McElhaney to head to the East Coast for college, but he wanted to stay close to home.

He attended Cal State East Bay before transferring to USC, where he was an active member of the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs.

McElhaney made an impression on his classmates at USC’s Thornton School of Music.

Athena Sferas, a 19-year-old sophomore, took a course with McElhaney in the fall that delved into how music and art have influenced history.

It was one of those large, introductory discussion classes where most people were hesitant to contribute, Sferas said.

But McElhaney wasn’t afraid to politely challenge students whose views he didn’t agree with.

“As a black student, he felt there were voices throughout history that haven’t been heard,” Sferas said. “He wanted to make sure black narratives weren’t left out.”

McElhaney’s death comes just a few years after his family lost another loved one, 17-year-old Torian Hughes, to gun violence.

Torian, whom McElhaney’s parents helped to raise, was shot and killed during a robbery in West Oakland in 2015.

The death broke McElhaney’s heart, said Azariah Cole-Shephard, a 20-year-old Oakland poet who knew McElhaney since preschool.

After the tragedy, she said, McElhaney would often initiate conversations about gun violence in person and on social media.

He was his mom’s biggest cheerleader as she helped create Oakland's Department of Violence Prevention and led an effort to preserve Measure Z, a public safety measure that funds investment in community policing and violent crime prevention strategies.

“I know that if this wasn’t him and it was someone else, he would have his arms around each and every one of his family members, letting them know that it would be OK,” Davenport said of the shooting. “He would want his community to rally together against gun violence.”

At McElhaney’s farewell party just before he left for USC, the guest of honor asked Cole-Shephard to perform her poem “For the Black Men My Love Cannot Protect.”

She recited lines that mourned the lives of young black men cut short by gunfire.

“We turned around and lost him to the same thing,” Cole-Shephard said. “It just goes to show that no matter how much you love somebody, you can’t protect them from the bullet that comes their way when you’re not physically present.”

In a statement Sunday night, Councilwoman McElhaney — whose council district covers West Oakland, the city's busy port and the area north of downtown — said her son’s death represents the “beginning of a new chapter in this reoccurring circle of violence.”

“I miss my baby,” she wrote. “Please keep me, my family, and all of my son's friends in your thoughts and prayers.”

Contact the Homicide Report. Follow @latimeshomicide on Twitter.

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