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Oakland councilwoman, mother of slain USC student, says he ‘was my sunshine’

Victor McElhaney, 21, was shot and killed near the USC campus on Sunday night. His parents remembered him at a news conference Tuesday.

As investigators probe this weekend’s slaying of USC student Victor McElhaney, the victim’s mother told reporters Tuesday that her son was not a statistic, or “just another black boy gunned down in South Central Los Angeles.”

Standing with a dozen family and friends at a news conference at USC, Oakland City Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney said her son was a promising young musician and the light of her life.

For the record:
1:30 AM, Mar. 13, 2019 An earlier version of this report referred to USC lecturer Aaron Serfaty as Sefarty and student Sarah Toutant as Tousant.

“Victor was my sunshine,” the councilwoman said as tears pooled in her eyes. “And I prayed like every mama, every day: Please don’t take my sunshine away.”

Victor McElhaney was drumming before he could walk or talk, she said, and played at weddings and funerals and bat mitzvahs as a kid. The 21-year-old was a lifelong son of Oakland and a recent son of USC, where he had been studying jazz percussion at the Thornton School of Music since fall 2017.

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He was the only baby she’d ever met that cried to be put down when she held him too long, his mother said. He needed his space, she said, but he also needed to see her.

McElhaney was shot outside a liquor store about a mile and a half from USC at around 12:30 a.m. Sunday. At the news conference, Los Angeles Police Capt. Billy Hayes said the victim and a group of eight friends were approached by three or four men who attempted to mug them, shot McElhaney and fled in a dark blue or gray sedan.

No arrests had been made as of Tuesday afternoon. LAPD detectives plan to review any security camera footage from businesses close to the shooting scene they can find, Hayes said.

Clarence McElhaney, the dead student’s father, implored anyone who might have information about the shooting to contact authorities.

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“Don’t be silent. Silence is worse than the actual bullet that killed my son,” he said, before speaking to the suspects directly. “Respect life, be a man and step forward and take responsibility for your actions.”

One of McElhaney’s instructors at Thornton, Aaron Serfaty, told reporters that McElhaney just had a concert last Monday.

“He was so happy,” Serfaty said. “I had never seen him play that well.”

The day after the concert, Serfaty gave McElhaney two new pieces to play. McElhaney was so excited that he began jumping on his seat.

“Victor was a brilliant musician first and a drummer second,” Serfaty said. “But most of all, he was an amazing human being.”

On Tuesday, as he spoke to reporters, Serfaty’s eyes drifted towards McElhaney’s parents, who had taken seats in front of him.

“I can’t look at you,” Serfaty said, bursting into tears. “He looked exactly like you.”

The professor walked off stage without closing remarks and embraced the McElhaneys.

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Sarah Toutant, a USC graduate student and friend of McElhaney’s, spoke of his kindness, authenticity and courage. He was outspoken and challenged everyone around him “in a way that would advance our culture,” she said.

“Seeing someone so free made you question why you couldn’t do the same,” she said.

Toutant said McElhaney was there for her when her father died recently.

“He told me nothing he could say would make me feel better, so he wasn’t going to attempt to try,” she said. He promised to check in on her, and that’s what he did.

“Vic, we promise to do the same — check in on your family and friends and come together to celebrate your life,” Toutant said.

Campus representatives emphasized their commitment to keeping students safe on and around campus. John Thomas, chief of USC’s Department of Public Safety, said his office has been working tirelessly on the case with the Los Angeles Police Department.

“I am quite confident that with help from the community, these individuals will be brought to justice,” Thomas said.

McElhaney’s death comes just a few years after his family lost another loved one, 17-year-old Torian Hughes, to gun violence. Torian, whom McElhaney’s parents helped to raise, was shot and killed during a robbery in West Oakland in 2015.

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At Tuesday’s news conference, Councilwoman McElhaney said that she’s dedicated her life’s work to “eradicating the violence that is too pervasive in our communities of color.”

Statistics show black and brown boys and young men are much more likely to die from gun violence than their white counterparts, she said.

“Too many mothers know this pain,” she said. “Too many, too often.”


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