USC stunned after music student, son of Oakland councilwoman, fatally shot near campus
A USC student who is the son of an Oakland city councilwoman was shot and killed in an apparent robbery attempt about a mile from the campus early Sunday, officials said.
The victim was first identified by campus media as Victor McElhaney, who was studying at USC’s Thornton School of Music, USC Annenberg Media reported on its Twitter page.
Oakland Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney confirmed in a statement Sunday night that the 21-year-old is her son.
“I miss my baby. Please keep me, my family, and all of my son’s friends in your thoughts and prayers,” she said. “We are beginning a new chapter in this reoccurring circle of violence.… And it will take all of us together to make it through this tragedy.”
Three or four men in their 20s approached the victim at the corner of Maple Avenue and Adams Boulevard shortly after midnight in what appeared to be a robbery attempt, said Officer Mike Lopez of the Los Angeles Police Department. The victim was shot and the men fled in a vehicle, police said.
The victim was in critical condition when he was taken to a hospital, where he died, Lopez said. Victor McElhaney was pronounced dead at 11 a.m. Sunday, Annenberg Media reported.
It was unclear if anything was taken during the robbery. No arrests had been made in connection with the shooting as of Sunday afternoon.
McElhaney transferred to USC from Cal State East Bay in the fall of 2017, according to USC Annenberg Media. The jazz studies major was an active member of USC’s Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs.
Before moving to Los Angeles, McElhaney was an instructor at Oakland Public Conservatory of Music, Annenberg Media reported.
McElhaney was an extraordinarily talented drummer, said USC jazz professor Peter Erskine, who gave the young man private lessons for a year.
“He was a bright light,” Erskine said, describing McElhaney as quiet and dignified. “He was someone I was expecting to hear a lot of music from in the future. I’m so sad that his voice has been silenced.”
USC interim President Wanda Austin wrote in a letter to students and faculty that McElhaney “believed in the power of music to touch lives, to heal, and to bring hope.”
“Victor’s loss will affect all of the faculty and students who knew him,” she said.
In 2015, Councilwoman McElhaney lost a close family friend — whom she considered a “grandson,” she told the East Bay Times — to gun violence. The 17-year-old boy, Torian Hughes, was shot during a robbery in West Oakland.
Since then, the councilwoman has used her platform to speak out against gun violence in Oakland. She helped to pass laws such as Measure Z, a public safety measure that funds investment in community policing and violent crime prevention strategies.
Security has long been an issue at USC, in an area south of downtown L.A. that has historically experienced significant crime problems. Crime has dropped there as it has in the rest of the city over the last decade, and the neighborhoods around USC have gentrified.
But safety remains a concern in the area. In the six-month period ending Jan. 20, 93 violent crimes were recorded in University Park, according to city data, giving the neighborhood a higher rate of violent crime than in downtown L.A. during the same time period.
Several high-profile incidents in recent years have sparked debate about the best ways to keep students safe.
On Friday, 22-year-old Alberto Ochoa was sentenced to life in prison in connection with the 2014 beating death of a USC graduate student from China. The student, 24-year-old Xinran Ji, was walking home from a study group near the campus when Ochoa and three others robbed and attacked him. Prosecutors said Ochoa, the fourth and final person sentenced in the murder, hit Ji with a bat.
Ji’s death followed the killing of two Chinese graduate students in 2012 during a botched robbery near campus. Six months later, a man fired gunshots in the middle of campus outside a Halloween party and four people were injured. None were USC students.
USC improved security after those incidents and added unarmed “ambassadors” in off-campus neighborhoods.
Coming into USC, sophomore Anuva Mittal, 19, said people repeatedly warned her the campus was in a crime-ridden area.
That was one of her parents’ biggest concerns. But during her freshman year orientation staff reassured her security was robust on the streets around campus.
She’s living off campus but still close enough that she can see USC Department of Public Safety officers patrolling from her window.
“Honestly so far it’s been fine. I feel safe,” Mittal said. “I personally haven’t felt it but I know getting all these emails constantly from DPS about crime, I know it’s an issue.”
Christina Yuan, 18, agrees that the presence of security officers makes her feel safe.
She said she actively thinks about safety the moment she steps off campus, and it’s always a concern in the back of her head.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.