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Dispatch: 'My son’s death was senseless and selfish'

December 7, 2009 |  5:00 am
Click to visit The Times' interactive project on Homeboy Industries' gang intervention efforts in South Alabama
Trayvon Jeffers left prison in the spring of 2007 determined to turn his life around. He'd been paroled after serving 4 1/2 years of a seven-year sentence.

He was just 21 when he pleaded no contest to two counts of assault with a firearm, one on a police officer. 

The prison stint capped off what, by his own admission, had already been a long history of gang banging.

Raised in Compton, Jeffers was involved in gangs by the time he was 12. As a juvenile, he had multiple encounters with the law. As an adult, he spent time in jail on narcotics and vehicular violations.

But prison was life-altering.

“Trayvon told me, ‘It was no joke, bro.’ In prison he had to play the race game. His decisions were not his decisions and he realized you couldn’t trust even your best friend," said Raul Diaz, who befriended him after Jeffers went to work at Homeboy Industries following his release. "It was clear he didn’t want to go back.”

At Homeboy Industries, a nonprofit organization that assists at-risk youth and former gang members, Jeffers found full-time employment. At first, Jeffers managed the front desk, greeting visitors and helping support numerous activities.

After a little more than a year, Jeffers was promoted to data collector, creating reports for financial contributors and monitoring client jobs, parole housing and new arrests.

Jeffers, who never earned a high school diploma or GED, was hesitant in the new role.

“Tray didn’t know if he could do it,” Diaz said, “but he was on it. I work with people who have bachelor's, master's, you name it, and Tray was one of the best. He relieved me from a lot of my stress. I never second-guessed him.”

Diaz said his friend knew it would be a struggle to stay away from his old ways, but he was determined. Another prison term would be unbearable. His resolve increased even more after Kim, his girlfriend of six months and coworker at Homeboy, became pregnant with twins.

Jeffers never knew his own father. As a child, he floated among family members while his mother battled health issues and a recurring drug problem. Jeffers decided he wanted a fresh start for his new family.

Jeffers relocated from Compton to the City of Commerce and moved in to an apartment with Kim.

“He liked it there," said David Gomez, another co-worker who often carpooled with Jeffers. "Sometimes it would get boring, but that’s where Tray wanted to start his family.”

In November 2008, not long before his twin girls were due, Jeffers left California for the first time to assist Light of the Village ministry in Prichard, Ala. Homeboy Industries had been making pilgrimages to the organization to extend ideas of social justice, education and providing services to the poor.

Along with two other Homeboy Industries staff members, Leslie Schwartz and Agustin Lizama, Jeffers spent more than a week teaching, playing with and mentoring children living in an area devastated by unemployment, poverty and crack cocaine.

“I thought I had seen it all," he later wrote in an essay for the Homeboy Review titled “A Journey for the First Time.” "I made a journey for the first time that taught me what real poverty is like.” In Prichard, half the roads were unpaved and most houses looked as though they'd been firebombed.

“Tray came back from that trip so deeply, profoundly moved. He came to see how lucky he was in so many ways. His geographic boundaries were expanded. He realized he was no longer imprisoned by his environment. It gave him perspective,” said Schwartz, who initially went to Homeboy Industries on a grant to teach a creative writing class and stayed on as a volunteer .

While in Prichard, Jeffers met an 11-year-old boy named Sean.

“This kid Sean stuck out the most,” Jeffers wrote in his essay, “because I saw in Sean the all around goodhearted 14-year-old cousin I lost to street violence. It was like Sean was almost carrying the spirit of my cousin in his heart.”

Later on, Jeffers learned Sean had been shot trying to protect his sister. Although Sean and his sister were hit, they both survived.

"I was hurt and saddened to see his life, in some ways, repeating the hardships of my own," Jeffers reflected.

Jeffers had to leave Alabama abruptly to rush to his girlfriend's side in the hospital. She had gone into labor. 

Jeffers went straight to the hospital to be by Kim’s side. He arrived holding a suitcase and wearing no shoes. He told his girlfriend he had given them to someone at the orphanage.

His daughters were born less than 24 hours later.

“He was trying really hard to be a good [partner]. He was transitioning from being a man to a responsible father,” Diaz said. “Family meant a whole lot more.”

Within months of his daughters birth, Jeffers was dead, apparently victim of the gang violence he had been working to escape.

Shortly before 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 6, Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies in San Dimas were called to the north shore of Frank G. Bonelli Park. They found Jeffers shot several times. He was taken to Pomona Valley Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Authorities said a female, whose identity has not been released, was also wounded by gunfire.

Investigators determined that Jeffers was at the boat launch area of the park with a group of men when an argument began.

Det. Gene Okada from the Homicide Bureau said no one who was at the park is willing to talk about what happened. The other shooting victim, who is recovering from her injuries, could not identify the gunman, he said.

Okada does not believe Jeffers was involved in any illegal or suspicious activity when he was killed.

Those close to Jeffers suspect he had gone to the barbecue to show active gang members that a person could change. 

“The thing is you’re bound to get back together with some of those people,”  Diaz said. “Gangs are like high school friends.” 

At the park, Jeffers got into a wrestling match with another male. After Jeffers won the match, his friends and family were told, the other man got angry, leaving the area and returning with a gun.

“My son’s death was senseless and selfish,” said Jeffers’ mother, Londria Austin. “I’m sad. I know he didn’t deserve that.”

Since his death,  his friends -- many of whom have lived through the loss of others to violence -- have continued to grieve.

“Other homies' funerals never bothered me, but this one devastated me,” said Gomez, with his head bowed. Car rides to work, he said, are a lot quieter. “I try to do things the way he would, but it’s not the same.”

Those who knew the 28-year-old speak of countless ways Jeffers changed their lives.

Gomez, also a former convict, admits when he met Trayvon, he was a racist.

“Being in and out and of prison, you learn to be that way," he said. "I built this hatred for races that weren’t mine. Little by little, I opened up to him and he helped me break that. He helped take that out of me. Tray helped break my prison mentality.

“I told him that I owed him my life. And he said, ‘I’m glad to be assisting you.' " Gomez shook his head and chuckled, recalling his friend bluntly telling him that he wasn't screwed up, although what he had gone through had been.

Not long before he was killed, Jeffers had enrolled in one of Leslie Schwartz's creative writing classes. Schwartz described Jeffers as a “rock in the class. An eager writer and just as willing to share his work.” In his poetry, she could see Jeffers was dealing with struggles and was at a crossroads.

“I saw him with a dawning sensibility on his life and sense of the world,” Schwartz said.

The first class after Jeffers' homicide, Schwartz had her students write lamentations, poems of mourning. Once everyone shared their work, Schwartz read poet Amy Quan Barry’s: “If I don’t meet you in this life, Let me feel the lack.”

“Once I read the poem, the room was quiet for about five minutes. No one moved. It was as if Tray was with us. We were all holding each other up in the most profound way,” Schwartz noted. “It was one more example of Tray holding us together, even in death.”

Now there is almost no sound and at night I am not afraid.
The next world will be made of paper and everything
will have the capacity to fly. Promise me it will be there
as it is here -— the raspberries climbing the trellis, the rivers
blue scripts. Because every story has two endings, I see your body
breaking down, I see you soaring in the light. Be taken with me.
Come pouring down unified.

Amy Quan Barry

Anyone with information concerning the death of Trayvon Jeffers is asked to call the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500.

-- Sarah Ardalani

Related: Prior to Jeffers' death The Times' Katy Newton and Liz O. Baylen met with him and other workers from Homeboy Industries to chronicle their gang intervention efforts in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in South Alabama. After he was killed they continued to follow his colleagues, including Agustin Lizama. Watch a video about those efforts and share your thoughts about gang intervention programs through their interactive project Alabama Homeboys.

Photo: Trayvon Jeffers, 28 Credit: Katy Newton/Los Angeles Times

The comments to this entry are closed.

Comments (17)


Another idiotic liberal article! Shame on you for this farce!

Live by the sword, die by the sword. What ever you did to harm others in your past, you can't erase that. It all comes back to you eventually. No matter how good of a person you are now.

This article is reaaly about redemtion. So many young men of all colors get drawn into a culture of gangs and crime without ever making a change for the better or having that chance before their own life is snuffed out.
This young man began that journey. To all of his friends and those he touched, do not allow his death to be in vain. People like Dave and Chriatian are dead themselves removed by their own feelings of hatred. Don't allow that hatred to destroy you too.
Touch others the way he touched you. Keep his memories alive by reaching out to someone else in need.
Not all will listen. Not all will change in tie. However, even if one does that will defeat those like Dave and Christain who would wish to bury you with their hatred. God bless you and keep harm away from you.

That's so sad to hear this story..... see people do change if they live long enough. That's too bad some punk killed him he was on his way to live a productive life outside of prison with is new family....RIP......... YOU WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN

OK christian I'm the only one in the Lavell Hudson piece that gave you the benefit of the doubt while other reemed you. But now you've crossed the line, and please don't call yourself christian, your comment is so un-Christianlike it nuts, there's a thing in the Bible called redemption, you don't believe that a young man who may have had some tough breaks, paid the price & repented for it can come out helping others??

Must be nice to be perfect like you.
New name for christian, I'll now call him pharisee!

This guy is probaly not a so-called gang banger.He is just saying that trying to sound hard.The only people he is hurting is members of his own race and family.If you are really down for your set is join the service.Get out of your mothers house and join real men in combat.

Are you stupid or something? How is this article "liberal"?

Conservatives are tough on crime, and as such, this guy was punished appropriately for his wrongdoings.

After finishing his sentence, he decides to reform his life. That's a good, nonpartisan decision to make.

Instead of burdening social services and welfare, he utilizes private resources (Homeboy Industries) to improve his life and gain valuable skills. He gets a job. Conservatives tout good work ethics and self-reformation to be good citizens. This guy was on board with that.

And then he dies in an altercation. Now society has one more single mother with two babies missing the love and support of their father. That is a real tragedy here. Any true conservative should be sad that that's one more single-parent household in need of assistance, and one less man out there trying to change his life for the better.

Before you past judgement on this young man, you make sure your life is right. No one knows what tommorow will bring, life is not promised to no one. at least he was trying to turn his life around. I did't even know this guy but I respect what he was trying to do, so you haters just hope you don't walk out your house today and get gun down!!!!

It never fails. Someone cleaned up his act, we doing the right thing meets his fellow or ex-fellow gang bangers to show them thier is hope, things can change and he gets killed! Not only that but the people he was with decide not to talk to the police? I guess if this young man only knew that this group of so called friends didn't really care about him he would have never showed up for that get together. Too bad no one in this group is man or woman enough to stand up for what's right. This isn't the first time any of us read about a person in the process of change that goes to one last BBQ or one last party or one last get together just to end up dead. My heart goes out to his child, she will forever be a statistic...a fatherless child.

this stuff is cold and rest in peace to the victim BUT, he should not have returned to this gang type 107versidehard is out and merry christmas to all

So sad!!!!

sounds like he was killed by someone from his own gang. where's the unity and
supposed 'family' atmosphere a gang creates? you may have one or two good friends in life, if you're lucky, the rest are nothing more than peripheral. any
'friend' that tells you or wants you to do wrong isn't a friend. stand up and be your own person, like Trayvon tried to do. unfortunately, the nostalgia of seeing
his 'homeboys' may have been his ultimate downfall.

dave- i'm sure you're okay with bombing women and children in
afghanistan, right? HYPOCRITE

After reading Mr. Jeffers story, I was truly touched. I must help these children in Ala. Pleases send more info as to how I can become a mentor for young women. My life story is worth sharing. I am a Girl Scout troop leader in the rough innercity of Baltimore, Md. Ive truly changed my life for the better in so many ways. I cant wait to be able to help young girls how to live life to their best ability and not become a product of their enviroment

May Trayvon Earl Jeffers rest in my heart. I was blessed to meet him, had a relationship with him, and start a family. I seek justice_my babies are without their father; I without my fiance; his sisters are without their big brother "Earl"; caseloads without their case manager, and friends without their partner.

NO ONE come forward, all who were involved and attended this event turned deadly have not been aprehended. There was a video on u-tube, and myspace when the shots were fired yet nothing is been being done. I speak to the both sides the streets didnt do anything, nor is the police.

The man who actually pulled the trigger multiple times is still free. All those who witnessed remain silent so all who claim to be friends of his, "homies", family etc arent helping and didnt help. I still have raise my daughters so I step back into my secret place of prayer that someone will be moved to testify, for justice to be serviced, for the father of my children and all victims of crime alike.

I always read the Homicide Reports and can't believe how senseless all of the stories are, sometimes I read the rest of the articles, usually don't. Today I read this story and nearly cried, which is saying a lot for me. Sometimes there is a higher calling for some of us, he got his calling, maybe too early, probably not. I can bet that the surviving female victim knows who shot her, she was probably there when the wrestling incident went down. His so called friends were there, they aren't telling on the shooter. Everyone who was there and did witness this shooting, are going to live in their own internal hells. The moral of this story is that some of us who start off wrong, and try to go right, have to realize that once you leave the dark you cannot re-enter, because the dark is where all things die. His old "homies" were not his friends once he got the light on in his head to change his life. Too bad somebody else from his same background who is still living didn't get the chance to tell him that. Thank you for not giving his mother the front page on this story, because she is part of the reason this guy is not on the planet anymore. He had to learn on his own the hard way, and all she can say is that she is sad. She is right he didn't deserve to be murdered but before that he didn't deserve to be bounced around like a kid while she ran the streets, and probably the "parents" of the person who shot her own son, while she did drugs and whatever else. It doesn't matter now if she changed her life, she probably didn't, but she is the one who set the events in motion to get her own son in the unfortunate predicaments that led to his obviously untimely death. Somebody needs to arrest her. My heart and prayers go out to his children who now have no daddy to try and show them the right things, the one thing he wanted to do for his babies.

My heart and prayers go out to all the families on both sides. Perpetual course of violence is weakening our society and continuing the cycle of fatherless children. May God Bless You All!


About the Reporters
The Homicide Report is compiled using information from the Los Angeles County coroner's office, local law enforcement agencies and the Los Angeles Times. It is written by Times staff writers.

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