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Dispatch: 'It was just a senseless crime'

May 15, 2009 |  7:28 pm

A pastor sings at the memorial service for Draysean Earl, a 13-year-old boy who was gunned down in Compton on May 5.

The coffin stood at the center of the church, just below the steps to the altar. An oversize bouquet of white roses rested on its lid, flanked by funeral wreaths. On one side was a framed No. 9 football jersey.

The mourners poured into the church this morning, gathering for Draysean Earl, a 13-year-old black youth who was gunned down in broad daylight last week in Compton. The pall bearers wore white. Family and friends came in memorial T-shirts.

Draysean Earl, 13. Women shouted and sang, their hands reaching for the church’s vaulted ceiling as Pastor A.L. Smith gave his sermon at One One One Christian Church in Long Beach. Men yelled “Amen” while shaking their heads and swaying to the music.

At 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 5, a black gunman walked down South Temple Avenue in Compton toward a group of youths hanging out in the 1400 block. He fired off five shots. Draysean and Andrew Peppers, 16, were each struck in the head.

“Whenever we see black-on-black crime, it’s family killing family,” preached one of the pastors at the service, reminding those present that the first killing in the Bible is a family member killing another family member.

A man who identified himself as Andrew’s grandfather stood at the front of the church to say a few words. His grandson died at the scene. Draysean died early the next morning at a hospital.

“This black-on-black crime, it doesn’t make sense,” he said.

Witnesses described what happened to police. A man walked up to a group of teens and, from about 245 feet away, fired five shots from a large-caliber handgun, said Det. Karen Shonka of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Shonka said she stood on the spot where the shots were fired, about five houses away. To have hit two boys, and both in the head, she said:  “It was just pure luck. Pure luck.” Draysean and Andrew had skipped school that day, and they were hanging out in a group of as many as 15 boys and girls, Shonka said.

The area is a common neighborhood hangout, which made the group an easy target for violence, Shonka said. Witnesses described the shooter as a 17- to 20-year-old black man, thin, between 5-feet-10 and 6 feet tall, she said. He had a very dark complexion, and he was wearing a royal blue T-shirt and black jeans that day, Shonka said.

The man approached the group on foot but had a getaway car parked up the street. He ran north on South Temple Street after the shooting, and sped off in a newer model gray sedan-type car, Shonka said.

Draysean was skipping school when the shooting happened, but his principal – of Roosevelt Middle School – stood up at his funeral and said he was an excellent student. He was in nearly all honors courses, including the school’s leadership class, she said.

Though he was successful academically, Draysean’s family and friends said, he lived and breathed the game of football. He played on a local youth team and quickly rose to become one of the most valuable and consistent players, said Terry Traylor, or “Coach Tee,” who coached Draysean’s football team for a year.

Traylor said Draysean did everything he could to improve his performance and regularly held his teammates accountable to his coach’s instructions.

“He used to tell me to do my push-ups every night,” said Troy Williams, 14, one of Draysean’s teammates.

Traylor said he had told Draysean that to become a better player, he had to do 200 push-ups every night.

One time, Traylor said, he was hosting a team sleepover at his house. At nearly 1 in the morning he asked the boys to get some sleep, but Draysean would not go to bed until he had completed his push-up regimen.

“He was doing these pushups in the dark,” Traylor said. “Even though it was late he said that he still wanted to do his 200 push-ups. He got them done, then went to bed.”

And the work had paid off.

Lavon Wright, 14, one of Draysean’s teammates, recalled a play he is still impressed by: “[Draysean] got the ball and took it almost 50 yards down the field.”

Traylor said he was one of the most physical players on the team. “When he made tackles he usually brought a big impact,” he said.

Mary Jackson, 38, Draysean’s mother, said he had received a scholarship to play football at Mater Dei High School, a rare accomplishment.

“He was going to be an NFL football player, but God called him home to be on his NFL team,” she said. “An African American man gunned down my baby boy. It was just a senseless crime. I don’t think any of the boys deserved that.”

-- Anthony Pesce

Draysean Earl's football teammates.

Top photo: Draysean Earl's funeral service at One One One Christian Church in Long Beach. Bottom photo: Draysean's teammates from the Suburban Football for Youth of Cerritos Steelers team. Credit: Anthony Pesce/Los Angeles Times

Middle photo: Handout football photo of Draysean Earl.