Surrounded by family, friends, teachers and dozens of others touched by the gang-related shooting death last month of his 7-year-old son, Ruett Foster spoke Wednesday of pain. And loss. And grief.
But he also spoke of hope--and of a coming together that perhaps only death can provide for those still living.
Gazing at a crowd that had encircled him, his wife, Rhonda, and their surviving son, 11-month-old Alec, who was wounded in the eye in the attack, Ruett Foster said: "People talk about community."
He paused, took an appreciative look around and declared: "I have seen community, a community living and breathing and going forward." He added moments later: "We're going to live on."
In a bittersweet postscript to the Dec. 8 attack in Inglewood's Darby Park that claimed Evan Foster's life, Rhonda and Ruett Foster vowed Wednesday at an impromptu ceremony at a Fox Hills auto dealership, where they were presented a new minivan, to press ahead.
"His memory must live on," Ruett Foster said of his son as his wife proudly showed off some of Evan's recent work at the computer. Included was a page in which the child had typed, in all capital letters, "I can do all things that is in me!"
Evan Foster was killed in the back seat of his mother's car, shot just moments after registering for a Darby Park basketball league. He was struck in the head by an errant bullet fired from a gun that Inglewood police said was a high-powered assault-type weapon.
Rhonda Foster, 37, was not hurt in the attack. Neither was the intended victim, a 30-year-old Inglewood man who happened at that moment to be in the park.
Alec Foster was hit in the left eye by metal fragments. He underwent a cornea transplant last week and is likely to need another operation when he's in preschool.
The vision in his left eye--protected Wednesday by a plastic patch held on by a green headband--remains blurry. But he wore a big smile as, sitting on his mother's lap, he played with the van's steering wheel and pushed on the horn.
"He's a real trouper," said Alec's aunt, Leslie Bostick, a pediatrician, "He is his parents' joy. He keeps them going."
Bostick also said that Alec, who is just learning to toddle, "goes up to all the pictures" of his brother, "touches them, looks at them. He remembers."
Three reputed Los Angeles gang members have been arrested and charged with murder in Evan Foster's death: Ollie Wilkins, 18, Kevin Bookman, 21, and a 17-year-old whose name has been withheld because he is a juvenile.
Still at large is Charles Baker, 21, whose street nickname is "Nine Ball," and who is believed to have fired the weapon used to kill the boy.
"We're doing everything possible to catch this guy," Inglewood Police Sgt. Tom Rowson said Wednesday. "Everyone wants this dirtbag in jail."
Police believe Evan Foster was shot with a MAC-90, a look-alike of the AK-47 that is legal in California unless outfitted with certain military-style features.
Detectives have that weapon in hand. They also say a .22-caliber rifle was drawn in the attack--but jammed.
Police have said that the attack was the product of unrelenting gang warfare. The reputed gangsters, angry over a fatal shooting two hours earlier on their South Los Angeles turf, "went out looking to kill," according to Det. Mark Campbell.
In Darby Park, they targeted the 30-year-old Inglewood man because he was standing by his red luxury car, the color of the rival Bloods gang, according to detectives. He is not a gang member, police have said.
Ruett Foster urged Baker to turn himself in:
"He boldly pulled out his weapon and fired the shots that took my son's life. With that same boldness, we urge him to come back, turn himself in and say with his own mouth, 'I did it, I'm sorry,' so he can turn his life around."
He also said he and his wife hope to "take this tragedy and rechannel it to do good."
Ruett Foster, 39, trained as a social worker and now in charge of a program that oversees the foster care of 350 children, said he hopes that the Evan Leigh Foster Foundation, formed in the wake of his son's death, will become a force for social good that will "give people an alternative to life instead of picking up a gun and shooting someone else."
He also said the family was immensely grateful for so many things:
For the outpouring of tributes--the library at Frank D. Parent Elementary School in Inglewood, where Evan Foster was a second-grader, is to be named in his honor.
For the dedication and devotion of friends and congregants at their church, the Miracle Life Community Church in Inglewood.
And for the generosity of strangers--including the 1998 minivan given to them Wednesday by a Ford dealership. The van replaces the 1985 car damaged by bullets in the Dec. 8 attack.
"We thank you so much," Ruett Foster said.
"No--thank you," said a voice from the crowd as the dealership's mechanics and salesmen joined hands with the others in the showroom. They bowed heads as a pastor blessed the car--and the Fosters, praying that the family's suffering would soon cease.
"Amen," came the loud chorus.