Since her son left, Patrick has sought help from every agency she can think of to call. But the answer is always the same: If Tyrone commits a crime, then he can be picked up. Otherwise, there is little the authorities can do because runaways are a low priority. So Patrick drives the streets after work looking for her son, or calls his friends, or just worries.
The Inglewood mother has been worrying almost constantly about Tyrone since the day in July of 1985 that she realized he was heading for trouble.
Raised by middle-class parents who loved and supported him, Tyrone did well in school and always got along with others. He had never caused problems. But after his parents went through messy and often bitter divorce proceedings, he seemed to change.
Patrick had always worked full time, and after the divorce, she had no alternative but to continue if she wanted to support herself and her son. But she didn't ignore her responsibilities. During the summer of 1985, when Tyrone was 12 going on 13, she called home frequently from her job at a bank to check on her son.
One afternoon that July, when Patrick hadn't spoken to her son for most of the day, she dialed home. A man answered the phone. "Who's this?" she demanded.
"Who's this?" he countered.
"Damn it," Patrick said, "I'm calling to check on my child. What is going on?"
The man, it turned out, was an Inglewood police officer. There had been a shooting in Patrick's apartment. Her son, who had apparently pulled the trigger, had been taken to the police station. His best friend, the victim, was at Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital in Inglewood. .
Patrick still doesn't know what really happened that afternoon. Her son told her many different stories. None of them made sense. But the boys had somehow found a loaded gun she kept hidden in the house for protection. Things had escalated from there.
Tyrone was released later that day, and no charges were pressed. He was ordered to see a therapist for six weeks, which Patrick hoped would help.
The following school year, Tyrone was suspended twice for minor infractions. Then he was picked up at school with a gun and a bullet. He and some friends had decided to get back at the assistant principal who suspended them.
When Patrick arrived at the school after being summoned by the police, she had another shock. Tyrone was wearing khakis,a white T-shirt and black slipper shoes--gang clothes. She had never purchased anything like them for him.
Later that evening, Patrick was told she could take her son home from the police station. Although he had been arrested, no charges were being pressed. Patrick was distraught. Her son had had two serious brushes with the law. Both times, he had walked away unpunished. She felt he needed to know that his actions produced consequences, so when she got him home that evening, she spanked him. Tyrone laughed. From that day on, Patrick believes, her son's attitude was set. "He had learned that the school couldn't touch him and the police couldn't touch him. He was saying to himself, 'Even when my mama spanks me I just laugh.' He was really convinced from then on that nothing could happen to him."
A year later, when Tyrone was 14, he became close to a cousin who was selling drugs. The boy's parents found the drugs and took them away. The drug supplier, angry about the lost drugs and money, retalliated by killing Tyrone's cousin. Then Patrick began hearing rumors that her son was in danger, too.
"I was so scared," Patrick recalls. "I just wanted my son somewhere safe, so I called my ex-husband and asked him to see if his mother in Alabama would take Tyrone." The grandmother agreed, and Tyrone was shipped off, but last May he began getting into serious trouble in Alabama, too. After he pulled a gun on a boy there, his grandmother said she could no longer handle the troubled adolescent, and sent him home.
When Patrick went to meet her son's plane, she noticed that "people on the plane were all looking around nervously as they got off. Then I realized it was my son they were reacting to. He was dressed all in his gang clothes, wearing an earring and all, and he looked really frightening."
After Tyrone returned, Patrick tried reasoning with him. "I asked him why he wanted to be into all this. Here was a boy who'd always had plenty of love. Why was he doing this? He told me, 'It's what's happening, mama.' When I told him he was likely to get killed out on the streets, he just looked at me and said 'We all got to go one day.' "
On the night before Tyrone ran away, he and his mother had a fight. Afraid for her son, Patrick had insisted that he be home by dark. He was furious and wouldn't eat his dinner. The next night when she got home, he was gone.
Now Patrick lives in fear. "When my phone rings at night, I never know whether it's going to be the police or someone asking me to come identify a body."