James Moore and his wife of 20 years were sitting at the kitchen table, sipping coffee and talking like a couple of newlyweds. After a Friday night of family card playing, the children had gone to bed and the couple lingered for one last cup. They were still deep in conversation at 4 a.m., when bullets smashed through the window.
"We were sitting up at the table," Moore recalled Tuesday, tears clinging to the corners of his blood-shot brown eyes. "All of a sudden, Bam! Bam! And I turned to her and said, 'Ceola, you hear that?' And she was gone, she was brain dead. . . . I can just see the scene in my mind. She slumped over."
Someone in a passing car had swung through the quiet west Compton neighborhood, picked out the Moore's two-story corner house--apparently at random--and fired two shots toward the dim light filtering through the kitchen curtains.
Ceola Belle Moore, a 45-year-old nursery school teacher, was struck once in the head. She was pronounced dead several hours later at Martin Luther King Jr. Medical Center.
Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies say it was a senseless murder with no apparent motive, no witnesses, no leads and, for the moment, no suspects. But the "drive-by" style of shooting is a common mark of youth gangs, and gang-style graffiti can been seen scrawled on many a backyard wall in the otherwise attractive neighborhood.
"That was really shocking and hurting to us," said Zelma Wilson, a neighbor of the Moores on South Stanford Avenue. "She was a nice, quiet person" who was active in the neighborhood block club.
Wilson said she slept through both shots as well as the wail of the rescue truck siren, but "when I woke up that morning I saw these yellow ribbons tied around the trees" in front of the Moore house. Then she telephoned Moore and learned of his wife's death.
"I wish they (sheriff's deputies) would get every one of those gang members because they're killing innocent people," Wilson said, pointing to where bullets fired from a passing car once flew through her own front door.
Willie J. Foreman, minister of the Hamilton United Methodist Church, remembered Moore's wife as a faithful and dedicated worshiper.
"She brought her children to choir each week and she would be here waiting with other parents. She was very friendly and supportive of the church. . . . Whatever was requested of her, she willingly took upon herself."
'A State of Shock'
After realizing that his wife was dead, Moore said, "I went into sort of a state of shock." He talked about his wife as he sat in a back bedroom with one wall nearly covered by hundreds of Polaroid snapshots chronicling his family's development.
"I shook her slightly. 'Ceola!' I was calling. 'Ceola!' " But his wife didn't move. Moore reached for the telephone and fumbled to dial 911, then woke his 11-year-old daughter, Rhonda, and 15-year-old son, Gregory. (Another son, Dennis, 19, wasn't home.)
When paramedics rushed his wife to the hospital, Moore said, "I stayed here with the kids because somehow I knew she was dead. . . .
Talked About Dying
"I remember the conversation we had had years ago," Moore said, shaking his head. " 'I don't want to be a vegetable,' " she had told him, as they talked about what might happen if either of them was ever seriously injured. "Luckily, I didn't have to make that decision."
For most of their married life, Moore said, his wife concentrated on being a mother and homemaker. But a year ago, with her children growing older, she decided to become a teacher's aide at the Victory Baptist Nursery School, because "she loved kids" and hated being idle. She had taken child development classes at Los Angeles City College years before, but never finished.
"She was a wonderful person--silly, but wonderful," Moore said.
"That's what I'm going to miss, that stabilizing force. . . . But I'll still hear her voice in my ear. We were friends."