Slaying of teenage boy in Compton haunts his mother

Mourners pay respects to Marvin Nicholson, a 13-year-old promising football player. His mother heard gunshots from her apartment and looked out to see a body fall, but didn't know at the time that the victim was her son.
(Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)

Lakeisha Hamm has not slept in days. Each time she lies down, the killing of her 13-year old son last week in Compton replays in her mind like a movie.

She hears gunshots, rushes to the front door and sees a body drop to the ground. She knows her son is outside. She sprints toward the victim. Terror washes over her as she recognizes his shoes.

On Thursday, Hamm buried her son Marvin Nicholson. She cried as she entered the small Inglewood chapel, filled to overflowing with more than 150 friends and family.

Marvin was the second person killed along a short stretch of Grandee Avenue this year, and one of 32 homicides in Compton so far in 2009. The city’s tally -- although already higher than for all of last year -- remains near record lows for an area that has ranked among the nation’s most violent for decades.


Marvin, a promising football player who was big for his age, was shot to death just after 12:30 p.m. Oct. 12. He had left the house shortly after noon to buy juice at the Compton airport’s store, said Hamm, who is five months pregnant with her sixth child.

Ann Bowlers, principal of the Tri-C Community Day School where Marvin was enrolled, said she had sent him home earlier that morning because of disciplinary problems. Bowlers said a counselor from the Children’s Institute, a local nonprofit that counsels at-risk youth, had brought Marvin to school that day to meet with her, then drove him home after he caused a disruption.

Hamm, 34, said that when Marvin got home, he was worried about his future, wondering if he would be expelled. She said he was already on juvenile probation -- which she said was for stealing candy -- and knew that trouble at school could cause more legal problems.

Probation officials and his public defender said they could not discuss his history because juvenile cases are confidential.

The last thing her son said to her was that he might have to switch schools. Hamm was sitting in her apartment having her hair braided when she heard gunshots.

“I saw the guy from afar standing over him shooting his body up,” she said. “I saw a body fall, but I didn’t know it was my son. I ran off to find my son.”

Marvin, who had been shot in the head, was still breathing when she reached his side. Hamm and two other witnesses told The Times that Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies were there within moments and ordered the gunman to “freeze” but that he jumped into a waiting car and fled.

Lt. Joseph Gooden of the Compton sheriff’s station said he would have to talk to the deputies to determine what happened -- which he said could take several days -- before commenting on the witness accounts.


Marvin was taken to a hospital and into surgery, but was pronounced dead at 3:10 p.m.

Hamm said she thinks Marvin was targeted by a gang. She said he “didn’t want to gang-bang; he wanted to go to school.”

“Every boy over there is targeted,” she said. “That’s the reason I had to take him to and from school. People were harassing him.”

Her street has been gang territory for a long time, she said, something she never quite learned to live with.


“When you come onto or off of the Grandees you get approached. . . . I don’t understand the gang life. Back in my day people used their hands to fight; now they use guns,” she said.

“Lord knows I wish that I could just hold him one more time, and I can’t,” she said. “I can talk to his spirit all day long, but I can’t feel his touch.”

Sheriff’s Homicide Det. Sam Dendekker said he could not discuss details of the case because it is an active inquiry.

He said investigators are still working to determine a motive.


Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to contact sheriff’s homicide detectives at (323) 890-5500.