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MORTAL WOUNDS

A Losing Battle at King/Drew

Second in an occasional report on murder in Los Angeles

January 27, 2003|Jill Leovy | Los Angeles Times

John Henry Smith Jr. was small in stature, large in personality, his loved ones say. He wore glasses, and was from Louisiana, a morning person who rose at dawn each day, and was the father of four children.

Ellen Atwater was a few feet from Smith when he was shot in the head during a quarrel with a man at the entrance to a nightclub on South Broadway. Atwater had been setting up an apartment for them, she said, and was looking forward to cooking him dinner there the following night. Smith was moonlighting as a security guard, police said, and had confronted a man who was trying to enter. The man later returned with a gun.

Atwater ran to Smith's side after he was shot. She stared in disbelief at his shattered glasses and the ragged wound in his cheek. Then Smith, without opening his eyes, gingerly reached for his face. He's moving, Atwater thought. That must mean he will be all right.

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