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A Son Reclaimed

April 11, 2007 |  5:36 pm

Audrey Pious came up to the house moments after the shooting. Her 23-year-old son was lying in the front yard, by the bedroom window, his eyes still open. A neighbor was putting pressure on the wound.

She got down on the ground next to him. "I got his hand," she said. "I told him I was there." She could tell he was going to die. No one could lose that much blood. Still she told him: "Keep breathing."

Her husband, a truck driver, was on the road and learned by phone that his son had been shot, and was able to minimize it. He imagined a painful, but not life-threatening wound.

WilliampiousverticalHe even rejoiced. Maybe now William would learn his lesson, the father thought. In his mind, he was already composing the lecture he would give him. "I could use this as a tool," he thought. "Now he will see what I am talking about."

William Pious died at St. Francis hospital at 7:54 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 21, less than two hours after he was shot. Los Angeles police said Pious was a gang member, and called the killing "gang-related." The Police Department put out no press release. No reporters showed up at the crime scene.

Contacted weeks after her son's murder, Audrey Pious related her story slowly, between long pauses, resolutely calm.

Her eyes, a striking amber like her son's, were steady and tearless behind metal frame glasses. She does computer work for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, and maintains a carefully kept house--gilt mirrors on the wall, floral drapes, plastic-covered couches, a coffee table crowded with rows of family pictures.

By contrast, the unshaven face of her husband, Robert Thomas, was haggard with grief. He said little, and bolted from the room as his wife described the last minutes of William's life. When he returned moments later, Robert couldn't bring himself to sit again. He leaned against the wall, shifting nervously, staring off into the distance.

Audrey Pious said she knows that this is the kind of homicide people easily dismiss--just another gang or drug murder in Watts, or Compton, like scores of others on the TV, she said. She knows the unspoken judgment in that dismissal. She says she wishes people could know what it was like--how what look like choices from afar don't feel that way up close.

Audrey and Robert were high school sweethearts. Their dream was a nice home in a neighborhood they could afford. But young boys were under constant pressure from gangs in their neighborhood--threatened with violence if they didn't join. "You don't win either way," Audrey said. "If you join, your life is taken. If you don't join, your life is taken."

They refused to be driven out of their neighborhood, but they were also determined to keep William out of trouble, so they kept him busy with programs--when he wasn't bunkered indoors. They spared no effort. Private schools. Football programs. The Young Black Scholars. William attended Dorsey High School, then "went from school to school, trying to stay out of trouble," his mother said.

It worked. For years. Then he turned 17, they said. The parents began to feel their control crumbling. They knew William was dealing with gang pressures, but he no longer talked about it. He grew secretive, growing away from them and into his own world of friends they didn't like. His parents struggled to understand what was really going on with him. They worked long hours, which made it harder.

Then he was an adult, and it was harder still. They hoped the birth of his daughter would straighten him out. It didn't. He went to jail, briefly, on a drug charge--and told his parents almost nothing. Audrey arranged for him to go to a job-training program in Northern California, hoping he would stay there, away from his friends in the neighborhood.

To her dismay, he soon came home. "It wasn't what he wanted," she said. Her husband broke in at that point, sounding frustrated. "He don't know what he want!" he said. Dislodging himself from the wall, he began to pace around the room.

It was the same old argument, rehashed. To them, it had been as though William were being yanked away from them. They hadn't known what he was up to, who he went out with, what troubles were brewing in his life. Their last days with him were marked by arguments--the parents increasingly desperate, the son distant. "I preached to him until I was blue in the face," the father said.

After he died, Audrey Pious found herself listening for his footsteps in the hall. Her husband went back to work right away, unable to stand time to think. Two boys, ages 13 and 14, were arrested for the murder.

In death, William's parents reclaimed him at last. When William's friends came around to mourn, Audrey and Robert shunned them. They didn't invite them to the funeral. "He went out with you, and this is how he came back," Audrey recalled thinking.

She especially hated the gang nickname they had for him: "Green Eyes." His golden eyes had no green at all, she said.