YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

A Little Brother Is Lost

August 01, 2003

Tom Riley will back his Ford pickup out of his Van Nuys driveway this morning and head down the Hollywood Freeway to South Los Angeles, a trip he's made hundreds of times since he became a volunteer Big Brother to Dexter Rideout. A 37-year-old software entrepreneur and a new father of twins, Riley was 25, a University of Notre Dame graduate working as a state legislative aide, when he first met the bright-eyed 8-year-old who had never been out of his neighborhood. On their first afternoon together, Riley took Dexter to a Christmas party at a friend's downtown office and on his first elevator ride. Dexter was terrified. Then thrilled. The friendship was sealed.

The relationship endured long past the one-year commitment the mentoring group asks of its volunteers. His mother's only child, Dexter became a fixture at boisterous Riley family dinners, the adored playmate for Riley's dozens of nieces and nephews, a familiar guest at friends' barbecues. As the years passed, Riley married and launched a business. Dexter earned his GED certificate and started automotive classes at a trade school. It became harder to get together but they talked on the phone at least once a month.

On July 21 came a terrible call. It was Dexter's mother -- who had gotten him into the Big Brothers program, who did what moms do to raise their sons right -- and she was crying. The day before, a Sunday morning, her son was walking two blocks from their house near Vermont Avenue and 50th Street when someone shot him.

Today, Riley will drive to the corner where his little brother died, to put up fliers begging witnesses to come forward.

A story in Monday's Times reported that the Los Angeles Police Department long had assigned more detectives per homicide to safer, more affluent parts of the city, leaving detectives overwhelmed in Central and South Los Angeles, the areas with the highest numbers of homicides. South Los Angeles alone has more than 2,000 unsolved cases from the last 12 years -- the length of Riley and Dexter's friendship.

A day after the Times story ran, a group of City Council members called for an accounting of how the LAPD deploys detectives. The attention comes too late for Dexter. But if the overburdened South Bureau gets more detectives, it has a chance of catching his killers and preventing another senseless death.

What South Los Angeles needs as much as more detectives is an army of caring big brothers. Meanwhile, Riley and dozens of his friends who knew and loved Dexter will try to bridge the gap, one flier at a time, one little brother at a time.

To Take Action: For more information on Big Brothers Big Sisters, go to www or call (800) 207-7567. More than 250 youngsters in South Los Angeles alone are waiting for a match.

Los Angeles Times Articles