Six months after a homicide
(HR has been returning every month to interview Barbara Pritchett and her family since June, when Pritchett's 15-year-old son Dovon Harris was murdered in the Nickerson Gardens housing project in Watts. Above, Pritchett and daughter Dwaina at Dovon's gravesite Friday.--Brian VanderBrug/LAT)
It was during proceedings for the defendants in Dovon's murder case. She was sitting near the front of the courtroom, she said. A witness was describing the last moments of Dovon's life: How he stepped off a bus, and started to walk. How the gun went off. How the witness looked back and saw Dovon lying on the ground...
Pritchett felt a burning in her chest. She was out of the courtroom as fast as she could walk, seeking refuge in the hallway. Her daughter Dwaina, 18, and Duane Harris, Dovon's father, followed her. Pritchett had moved near a window.
Dwaina joined her, watching as her mother took heaving breaths. Pritchett was hyperventilating. Suddenly, she slumped. Harris caught her, and eased her onto the floor. Court staff called paramedics. Nothing medically wrong, they said later. Just stress.
The grief is getting harder for everyone in the family. The holidays have been tough.
Pritchett weeps more frequently now. She appeared fretful, her braids loose on her shoulders. She twisted a tissue in her lap as she spoke. She is no longer sleeping much, she said. She naps, wakes, cries. Recently she woke up, and realized she was already crying: She'd been crying in her sleep.
Dwaina has quit her job at the Burger King in LAX. At first, when she told her employers of her brother's murder, they were sympathetic. But as the months passed, Dwaina kept having problems maintaining her composure, and their patience grew thin.
She had habit of hiding in the back to cry. "It got to the point, I was crying every day," she said. One day, a manager caught her, and accused her of seeking an excuse not to work.
Dwaina walked off the job briefly, hurrying to a restroom. After that, her relationship with her boss went downhill. She quit last month. "He basically said, 'get over it," she said.
Duane Harris, Dovon's father, who lives in Tennessee, has taken a few days off from his job as a door-and-window installer since the murder. Mostly, he tries to conceal his feelings. "It don't get no easier," he said. "People say time heals. But not when it's losing your kid. It still...." He broke off, circling his fingers in a churning motion.
He, too, could not bear the court proceedings. He found himself getting angry. "I could not protect my son from being hurt," he explained. "For a father, that is the hurting-est thing."
Pritchett said the sense of unreality she has had since Dovon's murder has now begun to dispel. For the first time, she and other family members seemed inclined to talk in detail about the circumstances of Dovon's death. "We are actually now in the part where we are really reliving it," Pritchett said. Before, "It was not sink-in time."
Both Pritchett and Harris talked about getting calls with the news Dovon had been shot, going to the hospital....
Dovon was still on life support then. They recalled how Duane Harris had begged the doctor to take his body parts, and put them in his son.
The doctors "had to keep explaining to him that it was impossible," Pritchett recalled.
When it came time to take Dovon to the surgical unit for the organ harvest, only one family member was permitted to follow the gurney down the hall.
Pritchett told Harris to go. "That was the hardest part," Harris recalled.
"To walk with him on a gurney to those doors. To see him go through those doors for the last time."