Charles Winbush witnessed the birth of his third child on Friday, cuddling the newborn daughter in his arms and pondering names for several hours with his wife, Gunisha.
They never got the chance to choose.
Winbush, 32, along with friends, Henry Livingston, 31, and Anthony Moody, 29--all residents of the Nickerson Gardens housing complex in Watts--were gunned down in an alley behind an Inglewood apartment building that night in what police say may have been a gang-related shooting.
"There is a gang they are definitely affiliated with," said Inglewood Homicide Sgt. Bill Thompson. "Whether they carry a membership card is another question."
Relatives and friends, however, insist that the three men were not involved in gangs--and said they were innocent bystanders or victims of mistaken identity.
"We don't want his memory stained by gang affiliation," said Winbush's wife. "Every man in South-Central Los Angeles is not in gangs."
Winbush, Livingston and Moody were standing in the alley shortly before 1 a.m talking to two women in a parked van when at least two gunmen walked up and began firing. Livingston and Moody died at the scene, and Winbush was taken to Martin Luther King Jr./Charles Drew Medical Center, where he died.
Gunisha Winbush said her husband planned to go home to bed, but Moody and Livingston, who were cousins, persuaded him to stop by a party in the 10200 block of Woodworth Avenue in Inglewood in honor of their elderly aunt's birthday.
Thompson said police arrived at the crime scene at 12:53 a.m. to find a party populated by 25- to 30-year-olds.
"It may have begun as a family gathering, but that's not what it ended up being," he said. "There is no question that it ended up being a gathering of an L.A. street gang."
Moody's sister, Regina, said a man she knows only as "John" had been upset with another of her brothers over a girlfriend and mistook Anthony for that brother. "John" was asked to leave the family gathering and left angry, she said.
Police talked to "John" and have not ruled him out as a suspect, but "it would be a long shot," Thompson said. Police say they have no other suspects but are working with the Los Angeles Police Department's gang intelligence unit on the case. They are looking for at least two gunmen, Thompson said.
In Nickerson Gardens, the victims were described as buddies who had been leading straight lives in a neighborhood plagued for years by drugs and gangs.
Winbush worked the last three years as a supervisor for a city Transportation Department program to shuttle Nickerson Gardens residents to jobs and local hospitals in a fleet of five vans. He was the first person hired to the program, and trained new workers to drive the vans.
"He would line up all of the trucks and they would drive straight through the project," said Nora King, president of the Resident Management Corp., which administers the program. "He was so proud."
The program, funded by a $1.3-million grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, operates out of Nickerson Gardens.
"He always said we need to stick together," said Anita Johnson, a driver with the program. "That's all he talked about. . . . We were all very close."
About 2 1/2 years ago, Winbush hired Moody, a friend from childhood, to work as a driver. Livingston occasionally volunteered for the program.
"They were far from gang members," Johnson said.
Moody, the father of a 1-month-old boy, 6-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son, had been saving money to send his mother on a vacation. He got the idea after he attended a transportation conference in Atlanta, where he stayed at the Peachtree Hotel.
"He had never been out of Watts," King said. "He opened the curtain and looked out the window of the hotel and said, 'Miss King, Miss King, have you ever seen anything so pretty? Man, Miss King, I want to bring my mother here.' Now he died and never fulfilled his dream."
Livingston had served jail time on a drug charge, but in the past four years had stayed out of trouble and was a follower of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, Regina Moody said. He and his 7-year-old son lived in Nickerson Gardens. Three other children live with their mother.
This week, co-workers at the transit program wore black tape over their name tags. And Gunisha Winbush came up with a name for her daughter, in honor of her dead husband: Charnay.