Hero to children mourned

Times Staff Writer

To many children who have so little, Officer Randy meant so much.

He brought them bicycles at Christmas. He took them to Dodgers games and McDonald's. He got them new shoes for school. He invited them to day camp for a swim and slipped their parents money for groceries.

Nearly every weekend he visited lower income neighborhoods from Carson to Watts to South-Central, as part of a church group he founded -- Glory Kids Ministries -- to steer youngsters from gangs and toward the gospels.

He helped a mom weather her battle with cancer, and his influence on children often rubbed off on the unruly adults in their lives.

And now he was gone.

For the first time, the Glory Kids vans made their Saturday pilgrimages without Los Angeles Police Officer Randal Simmons, 51, who was shot to death Thursday during a SWAT raid in the San Fernando Valley.

The Glory Kids volunteers tried to explain to the likes of Machealle Corswell, 12, how it could be that Simmons would no longer dress up as Santa for their holiday celebration, or shoot baskets with them on the playground, or treat them to the USC-UCLA football game.

"He was like an uncle to me," said Machealle, who could not stop crying. She was among three dozen children the Glory Kids crew met with at Scottsdale Townhouses in Carson. "When I heard about it on the news, I didn't want to talk to anybody," Machealle said, echoing the anger and confusion expressed by other children who had been in Simmons' orbit.

"It's not fair," said Tommy Newsome, 12, who stared watery-eyed across the Scottsdale basketball court. "I called him my hero. He was going to take us to the skate park next week."

The Glory Kids team Saturday set up loudspeakers at Scottsdale, played a quick round of Jesus-themed "Simon Says" with the children, gave them balloons and said it was OK to cry. More than anything, they stressed that Simmons would not want them to lose faith.

"Where's Randy right now?" asked Greg Parra, a church minister.

"In heaven!" the children shouted in unison.

They cheered as they released the balloons into the sky, as a way of letting go of their sorrow.

But still they struggled.

Eleven-year-old Julian Johnson said he was "mad" about Simmons' killing.

"He always came here to tell us about God," said Julian, who was straddling his bike. "That's how all the kids here know about God."

Barbara Sabo, 18, burst into tears when her sister told her about Simmons' death, and has since been trying to comfort the younger ones at Scottsdale.

"They're asking questions like, 'Why did he have to go?' " she said. "They know it's not going to be the same."

Simmons, who had two teenagers with his wife, Lisa, could have stepped out of an LAPD recruitment poster. He played football for Washington State University, remained powerfully built into his 50s, and passed up promotion opportunities to serve as the "rock" of SWAT, the elite corps of first-through-the-door risk-takers.

But it took his death for many to realize how well he filled out the picture of a role model, and how deeply his presence was felt in neighborhoods that knew him off-duty.

Worshipers at Glory Christian Fellowship International in Carson said Simmons routinely devoted at least part of three days each week to the church, mainly for children but also for their parents.

He started Glory Kids 11 years ago, donating his own money and raising more from church members and corporate benefactors to pay for the two vans, food, clothes and toys. It now serves about 1,000 children a month, said church spokeswoman Melissa Franklin.

"We've gotten calls from all these communities, and they're really hurting now," Franklin said, referring to Simmons' death.

She was in the church parking lot, preparing for stops at Scottsdale and Hacienda Village in Watts.

Simmons rarely spoke about his job, Franklin said: "The only thing he'd comment on was the pain that was out there on the streets."

At Scottsdale, which has had its share of such pain over the years, Simmons' sway with children, their older siblings -- and, by extension, their parents -- was a salve, said Cyd Balque, who heads an association of the community of 600 town houses.

"He made a connection with the children," she said. "I grew up here, and I never saw the kids so excited. They'd say, 'Is Randy coming?' That had an effect on their parents. It created an atmosphere of peace."

Simmons was killed when he burst into a San Fernando Valley house where a 20-year-old man holed up after telling police dispatchers that he had shot his father and two of his brothers. Another SWAT officer, James Veenstra, was wounded, and a police sharpshooter later killed the gunman, Edwin Rivera. The bodies of the father and brothers were found in the Winnetka-area house.

"When my grandma called me and said he died, I said, 'That's not true,' " related LaTierra Barnes, 13, who joined the Glory Kids gathering at Hacienda Village. "Then I saw it on the news, and I started crying."

She and two young friends the bike raffles Simmons held in the courtyard, and the outings to Dodger Stadium and the Coliseum. "He treated us like we were his own kids," said LaTierra.

Standing by the Glory Kids van was Mimi Fennell, 49, who said Simmons was there for her children when a bout with cancer left her broke.

"The cancer was so bad, they said I could go any day, but he said, 'No way, babe, you're not going anywhere,' " Fennell recalled. "He told me not to be afraid of death. When you were with him, you felt alive. . . .

"Now he's at peace, but he's leaving his love here."

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paul.pringle@latimes.com

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