'I watched the life just leave his body'
The circumstances of street shootings often dictate that the victims' loved ones are on hand to watch them die.
The reasons are simple: Victims are commonly murdered in public spaces not far from their homes. Friends and relatives hear shots and run out in time to watch a son, husband or brother bleed to death.
Her son, Rodney Elijah Love, 15, was a 5-foot, 11-inch teenager with a ready smile, a honey brown complexion, and light brown eyes. He loved Dave Chapelle and anything that had to do with comedy. He loved hats. He liked talking to girls. He was a student at Reseda High, but Cooke had just allowed him to transfer to Westchester so that he could play football.
Cooke had plans for him. "To get a college degree, and get himself out of this neighborhood," she said. Rodney had to get up at 5 a.m. to catch the school bus to the San Fernando Valley: he wasn't allowed to ride MTA buses. He was barely allowed to go outside. He stayed in their apartment near Western Avenue and West 80th Street, playing with the Internet for hours. He would entertain himself by taking pictures, striking tough poses for self-portraits such as the one at left, though in reality he had to ask permission even to go the corner. Rodney had never been part of the local street scene, according to a tattooed young man from the neighborhood. He was "Just a little boy, with nothing to do with gang bangin'," he said.
On Sunday afternoon, Rodney had a friend visiting. He begged Cooke to allow them to go outside. She felt bad that he had been cooped up all weekend. Stay close, she had told him. She checked on him twice out the window. She lay down for a nap.
Shots jarred her awake. After that, "Everything happened in slow motion," she said.
There was a neighbor in the stairwell saying someone had been shot. Cooke called down the stairs: "Is it Rodney? Is it Rodney?" The neighbor turned reluctant eyes toward her, speechless. Cooke ran down, saw Rodney, grabbed her phone.
She got a recorded message when she called 911. She tried and tried. In desperation, she dropped to her knees next to her son. She prayed. He was alive. His eyes seemed to be trying to look at her. Then they ceased. "I watched the life just leave his body," she said.
Time was passing. Her outrage grew. Patrol cars showed up before aid cars. "Why?," Cooke demanded. An officer tried to explain the policy: At L.A. shooting scenes, paramedics are sometimes directed to wait until officers give them clearance to avoid being shot themselves. Cooke absorbed this. Later, at California Hospital, she begged to see the body, but was denied.
On Monday, she paced the small apartment, seemingly unable to remain still, constantly breaking into tears. She recounted details in rapid succession, and returned again to one theme:
"I constantly said, 'I have to keep my son safe. I have to protect him from these streets," she said. "I knew where he was at all times. I figured I would let him go outside for a few hours. It should be OK." She closed her eyes for a moment. "He was downstairs at his own house. He's got to be safe there."