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Compton Mourns Victims of Violence

Derrick Kellum may have been trying to reclaim a stolen wallet when he and his son were slain.

October 04, 2006|Ashraf Khalil | Times Staff Writer

The shrine at 134th Place and Slater Street in Compton started as a cluster of candles between two traffic cones placed over the bloodstains. By noon Tuesday it had expanded to include flowers, a bright red balloon, a baseball cap and a basketball scrawled with goodbyes.

Mourners came in clusters to pay respects at the site where Derrick Kellum and his 10-year-old son, Octavus, were gunned down late Monday while sitting in a car. Kellum's other son, 7-year-old Derrick Kellum Jr., saw the shootings but was uninjured.

The killings were a somber reminder of street violence in Compton, which this year has seen a sharp decrease in homicides, most of which are gang-related.

They were also the latest tragedies for the Kellum family, which has lost four members to violent killings, said Leslie Kellum, the grandmother of the two boys.

Her husband Ralph was stabbed to death in 1984. Her grandson Quincy (Derrick's nephew) was killed in a drive-by shooting in 2001 one block away from the spot were Derrick and his son were killed Monday night.

"That's four Kellum males since 1984," she said. "Even though you know the Lord and you walk with the Lord, it's still painful."

According to family members, Monday's shootings were prompted by a dispute over a stolen wallet. Derrick Kellum, 46, knew the identity of the thieves and planned to pursue them, they said.

But if Kellum was seeking to confront people who stole his wallet, it's unclear why the father of three would choose to do so late at night accompanied by two young boys. His mother, Leslie Kellum, speculated that her son might have planned to resolve the dispute diplomatically.

"He's a very talkative person," she said. "He probably figured he could talk his way out of anything."

According to police, Kellum pulled his car over near 134th and Slater about 10 p.m. Monday.

"An unknown suspect approached the vehicle, produced a handgun and started shooting," Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Paul Schrader said.

Kellum and his son were struck in the upper torso. The father died at the scene; the son was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Lamar Brown, whose home overlooks the crime scene, said he was around the corner when he heard as many as six shots. He arrived before the ambulance and saw the two victims sprawled on the asphalt near their car.

Derrick Jr. fled to a nearby home. He was retrieved by his family and questioned extensively by detectives.

"He's a strong little guy. He was talking to [deputies] like a real man," Leslie Kellum said of her grandson. "He ran. That's the only thing that saved him."

On Tuesday, news of Derrick Kellum's death spread quickly, shocking residents who described him as a longtime Compton resident who worked in family-run plumbing and trucking companies, a doting father who was not involved in gangs or drugs.

"He was a family dude. Every time you saw him he was out with his kids," said Darryl Guess, a funeral home worker who stopped by the memorial to pay his respects.

Asked about Kellum's personality, Guess, who had known him about 15 years, launched into an impersonation of his gravelly voice and rapid-fire delivery.

"Sometimes you couldn't even understand what he was saying," Guess said, laughing.

Capt. Ray Peavy of the homicide division said increased manpower and resources devoted to Compton had helped drive down the city's violent crime rate. Monday's killings were the 25th and 26th in Compton this year, compared with 49 murders from Jan. 1 to Sept. 24, 2005.

"We've been successful up to a point, but every time there's a murder it does give you pause -- especially when it involves a young child," Peavy said.

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ashraf.khalil@latimes.com

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