In late 2005, Johnetta's family moved to a home on Loness Avenue near Compton. The next February their lives took a dramatic turn: Tylette's younger brothers were shot by a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy who confronted them as they walked home from a liquor store, after a customer reported seeing them with a gun. Freddie Jr. had been carrying a sawed-off shotgun and Keyonte a handgun -- for protection, family members said.
Freddie Jr. died the next day of gunshot wounds to the back.
The family sued the county and, in August, a jury awarded the Davises $2.6 million -- a judgment they are waiting to collect. Everyone mourned her uncle's death, Johnetta said, but Tylette could not stop crying. Freddie Sr. noticed another change in Tylette.
"Well, I have always been drinking a little bit," he testified at the trial, "but right now I got a daughter, she has turned into an alcoholic."
'I had to call'
Linda had a stroke and a mild heart attack after the shooting.
Dorothy Davis, who visited the home to help care for her, said Tylette seemed to be in bed all the time, and the children often missed school.
"Johnetta looked like an old lady. She cleaned around the house more than all of them. . . . Everyone called her names."
In May 2006, a cousin of Linda's saw Johnetta walk out of a kiddie pool, scratching and bleeding from her eczema. Mary Smith, 74, said her brother yelled for somebody to get some lotion but no one budged.
"I knew I was going to call [the county] when I saw Johnetta," she said. "I had to call."
After finding a pattern of mistreatment in the home -- only the second such conclusion in a dozen investigations -- county authorities checked for the next year to see that the children went to school and that their mother received Family Preservation services, including classes on parenting. If Tylette found a new place to live, the child welfare agency would help cover move-in costs, according to the August report -- but she never did.
In spring 2008, after an argument with Linda and Freddie Davis, Hill decided she'd had enough. "Johnetta was on the couch bleeding, and I just told her, 'Come on, Johnetta, let's go. You're staying with me.' "
Hill said Linda turned to Tylette and said, "You're going to let her take your baby like that?" Tylette said, "Yeah."
Hill had planned to take in Dae'von because she thought he was treated roughly. But then she saw Johnetta, barely over 4 feet tall, the backs of her knees so scabbed she could hardly walk.
"I thought she needed me more," she said.
Hill was already caring for a husband in a wheelchair. She had survived cancer and the murder of a son. She also knew the academic challenges facing Johnetta, who read at about a second-grade level.
But Hill had some advantages, too: a sense of humor and dogged resourcefulness. She found Johnetta a dermatologist and arranged for tutoring. She set boundaries, identifying "gang houses" to avoid. She grounded Johnetta for letting a friend pierce her lip and for not listening to teachers.
"Your problem is you're a follower," Hill said as Johnetta sat nearby. "She loves her momma. She'd go with her momma right now if her momma said, 'Let's go.' "
"I said I love my mother," Johnetta retorted. As for going back, "I never said that."
Home 'not suitable'
Last December, after another visit by social workers, Tylette sent most of her other children to live with others.
She later told social workers she had decided her parents' home was "not suitable for anyone." Most of the fathers' homes were not an option -- two of the four were in prison for murder -- but her ex-boyfriend Fisher was willing to take the two youngest, Dae'von and his little sister. He was the girl's father, not the boy's.
In March, the siblings entered pre-kindergarten at Lakewood's Riley Elementary School, teacher Majella Maas said. They clung to her like "extra appendages" -- especially Dae'von.
In 28 years of teaching, Maas said, she had never known a boy as hungry for affection.
He'd snuggle up to her in class and sit on her lap, or throw his arms around her. He knew how to tie his shoes but would undo his laces so she'd redo them. During recess, he stayed at her side.
"Being with an adult was more important for him than playing," she said. "He didn't need to talk. He just wanted to be close."
In late April, the boy arrived at school with a bloody, swollen nose. The school called the county, but without the correct address, it took social workers about two weeks to find Fisher. The boy said Fisher hit him; the man said it was an accident. The evidence was deemed inconclusive.
According to the August report, the social worker "ensured the child was seen by a doctor and a safety plan was signed, indicating that no one is to hit the children."
A month later, on June 3, Maas called the county, this time because Dae'von said that Fisher had hit him in the stomach.