Days before her death, Menelva Faye Tippie returned home from Philadelphia, where she had buried her father. She was relieved to be back doing the work she loved: helping elementary school children cross the busy streets of Los Angeles.
School crossing guards are usually seen as guardian angels in the neighborhood. Tippie’s shooting death last month showed they can also be innocent targets. Tippie, 47, died near 116th Street Elementary School on April 20, struck by a stray bullet while talking with a co-worker.
The Los Angeles City Council this week approved a $25,000 reward for information about who killed Tippie, the city’s first crossing guard shot to death in the line of duty.
“She was one of my best workers,” said Capt. Elma Walker of the city Department of Transportation. “She was back to work on Monday and on Friday she was dead. It was just horrible.”
Friends and co-workers of the crossing guard held a candlelight vigil in her honor last week at the spot where she was killed, 116th Street and Avalon Boulevard.
“She was a real leader,” Walker said. “Whenever there was tension in the air she found ways to ease it. She liked to hug. If something seemed wrong or someone was mad, she would ask, ‘Can I get a hug?’ or ‘Can a sister get a hug?’ and the mood would change.’ ”
Tippie was recently promoted to lead supervisor after working as a crossing guard since 1984. She was at her last stop of the day when she was shot.
“I don’t think she had a chance,” said Los Angeles Police Det. Donovan Nickerson. “She was probably startled by some of the shots and may have been struck as she made her way to the car and collapsed. It was just fate. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Nickerson said a man who apparently was the intended target of the gunman was shot in the torso. He was treated at a hospital and released.
“We know that there are witnesses out there,” Nickerson said. “School was out. There were 20 or 30 people on the street at the time.”
City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who sponsored the reward, said, “We can’t look at it as routine when people are killed in such acts of violence.”
Crossing guards are mostly afraid of reckless drivers. Last November, a 17-year-old motorist lost control of his car and swerved onto the curb, killing crossing guard William Hooper, 60, of Tujunga.
Since Tippie’s shooting, the Department of Transportation has found only one crossing guard willing to take over the intersection where she was killed.
“No one wants to do it,” said Ida Walker, the sole volunteer. She lives a few doors away. Even the children, she said, are afraid to linger there.
“They go straight to school and they go straight home,” she said. “Their parents are walking them or they’re getting rides.”
On Thursday, Walker talked with the children as she worked. “Come on babies,” she said. “It’s time to cross.”
“Your braids are lovely,” she told another.
At 116th Street School, parent Maria Osorto said she won’t let her children walk to school.
“It’s too dangerous,” said the mother of three. “I drive them.”
Principal Patricia Dawkins said counseling is available for students still troubled by the shooting.
“We loved her dearly,” Dawkins said of Tippie.
Not long after the shooting, DeShon Newsome, Tippie’s 29-year-old son, visited the intersection where his mother was killed.
“It has been hard to put into perspective,” he said. “I’ve accepted it, but I don’t like it. I can’t believe I can’t pick up the phone and talk to her. I don’t believe in coincidences. Everything that happens has meaning; it’s just been hard trying to find a reason for this.”
Anyone with information about the shooting can call (213) 485-6902.