Watts Sad, Tense and Weary After Nickerson Gardens and Grape Street Killings

Two years ago, with his South East  High School Jaguars trailing the Huntington Park High School Spartans by 24 points,  then-14-year-old Elijah Galbreath - pulled groin muscle and all -  led his team to a thrilling, come-from-behind victory with four touchdown runs.

This past Sunday, around 2 p.m.,  on 103rd and Grape Street, across the way from Jordan Downs,  Galbreath had no where to run. He had just walked out of Ronnie's Market and was headed home when a car slammed to a halt and a male with a gun exited. Elijah - hemmed in by a large fence, the car and the gunman - surrendered.   He dropped to his knees and put up his hands. The assailant shot him.

Krystal Galbreath, Elijah's sister, was at home in Jordan Downs when someone pounded on her door moments later..

"They just shot your brother," she was told. Krystal ran across 103rd Street and saw her mortally wounded younger brother.  " I went crazy. I just went crazy."  

Elijah was taken to St. Francis Medical Center where he was pronounced dead. 

Roughly two and half hours earlier, a mile-and-a-half away in Nickerson Gardens, another gunman - maybe two - entered those projects through a gate off Imperial Highway west of Success Avenue, saw a target and opened fire. Shot and killed was a beloved lifelong  Watts resident, Clinton "J B" Givens, 39.  

"I was just walking into my home when I heard shots," said a shell-shocked LaTasha Manley, Givens' woman and the mother of his children. "I looked back outside and, and, and there he was." 

"JB's dream was to make sure me and our kids were all right," Manley said as she showed off family photographs. "He wasn't my boyfriend. He was my man."

The two killings have brought a tension and eerie stillness to Watts not felt since  - almost two years to the day - September, 23, 2013, when for rapper Kevin "Flipside" White, 44,  of the Nickersons and Markice "Chiccen" Brider, 29, of Imperial Courts, were shot and killed within minutes of each other, allegedly by Grape Street Crips.  (For more on that check this link  http://www.krikorianwrites.com/blog/2013/9/24/watts-tense-after-2-killings-3-arrested-from-grape-st)

As rough as it is, Nickerson Gardens might have the best sense of humor in town.  But, Tuesday afternoon it was unusually somber, a combination of sadness for JB, concern a street gang battle was looming and a resigned awareness that its fiery past could be so easily rekindled.  At the gym, in the office, in the courtyard where JB died, the animation so prevalent in the projects was gone.

"Senseless, senseless, senseless," said Ronald "Kartoon" Antwine in a powerful Facebook post that drew dozens of agreeing comments.

LAPD's South Bureau Commander Phil Tingirides, who as captain of the Southeast Division was instrumental in developing better-than-ever relations between police and the Watts community - sought to squash fast rumors the killings were part of any Nickerson Gardens Bounty Hunters Bloods against Jordan Downs Grape Street Crips conflict. 

"People are scared, but right now it does not look that way," said Tingirides. "We need to hold off. Fortunately, the community is helping out and we are getting a lot of calls." 

Over on 105th Street, the family of Elijah Galbreath gathered and quietly greeted neighbors, friends. and out-of-town relatives who had flown in from other states to be with them. 

"They killed me when they killed my baby," said Elijah's mother Timeca Person. "They are taking out kids away forever."

When told of the earlier killing in Nickerson Gardens, Elijah's aunt who had flown in from Arizona, expressed shock.

"They haven't learned yet," said Vertrice Dooley, who recalled Elijah as respectful, funny, quick to dance and helpful. "Elijah was kind to everybody. If there were younger kids who needed any kind of help, he was happy to help them."

Mileon James, the football coach at Augustus Hawkins High School where Elijah had  transferred, spoke of the teenager's maturity, talent  and goals.

"He wanted to make his mom and dad proud and be able to get them in a better place," said James, "Elijah had this charisma about him. And he was freakishly athletic." 

Moran Galbreath, 43, Elijah's father, sat on a bench near the family home front door and spoke passionately about his son's death and that of so many other black males.

"This has got to stop." said Galbreath, 43, "We are crying and marching over police killing us, but we are annihilating ourselves. We are steadily destroying our own people."

With a distant gaze, Galbreath proudly talked about that game against Huntington Park High when his son "single-handedly brought his team back"  to a stunning victory.  "He was so determined."

Proud dad recalled the time he took Elijah to see his older brother Daylon who is at Langston University in Oklahoma on a scholarship. 

"Elijah got to work out with his brother and the team there and he turned to me and said 'This is me."

On 103rd a few yards from Grape Street, dozens of "murder candles" were lit in that all-too-familiar site of a fast memorial to the street slain. Moran Galbreath shook his head. "Our kids deserve more than this. Our kids don't deserve to be candles on a corner."  

There was a vigil for Elijah tonight  on 103rd and Grape. There were no television crews. 

 Elijah galbreath leans on his grandma

Elijah galbreath leans on his grandma