Aaron Shannon Jr. was a bumblebee last year for Halloween. His family didn't have much money for a new costume, but his grandfather figured no self-respecting 5-year-old boy could be a bumblebee two years in a row — not this boy, anyway.
Bright and precocious, Aaron was treated like the mayor in his corner of South L.A. He shook so many hands and hugged so many teachers that it could take an hour just to pick him from up from school, where he had been in kindergarten for all of a few months. Adults marveled at his ability to hold his own in grownup conversations. He was an old soul and he was old-school — often coming up with silky dance moves while singing along with the Temptations.
FOR THE RECORD:
Halloween shooting: An article in the Nov. 6 Section A about the shooting of a 5-year-old boy in South Los Angeles said that the boy, Aaron Shannon Jr., died when he was shot on Halloween 20 minutes after donning his Spider-Man costume. As indicated later in the article, his death did not occur until the following day. —
He was not a bumblebee, so his grandfather showed up with a Spider-Man costume on Sunday, Halloween. "I've never seen him so excited," 55-year-old William Shannon said.
Aaron tried it on, flexed his fake muscles and pretended to fire spider webs at his uncle. Then he dashed around the backyard of his house on East 84th Street. His grandfather tried to slow him down, but Aaron took a spill. He popped up, summoning as much bravery as he could, but soon whispered to his grandfather: "I hurt my hand."
"I told him: 'You'll be all right," William Shannon recalled. "'Nothing can hurt Spider-Man."
Twenty minutes later, Aaron was dead.
A bullet fired from the alley behind his house hit Aaron in the head. Aaron's uncle and grandfather were wounded.
On Friday, authorities announced the arrest of two alleged gang members in connection with the shooting. Marcus Denson, 18, and Leonard Hall Jr., 21 are both suspected members of the Kitchen Crips gang, Deputy Police Chief Pat Gannon said. Denson and Hall were booked on murder charges and were each being held on $1-million bond.
Gannon said the suspects crossed into a rival gang's territory looking for someone — anyone — to shoot as payback for a shooting earlier this year.
"They were not targeting any one individual," Gannon said. "These are violent people with no sense of how their violence affects other people, including a young, innocent boy."
Gannon said tips from the community led to the arrests — including tips from gang members, which is unusual.
"Nobody — absolutely nobody — thinks this is acceptable in any possible way," Gannon said. Aaron's family has met his death with immense sadness, but also with another emotion that is all too common in this part of town — a steely resignation that this is the way it's always been and the way it's always going to be.
"It's not going to stop," said Aaron's father, 25-year-old Aaron Shannon Sr., who is studying law enforcement at a trade school. "This is the way people were brought up. It's just their way of life."
Aaron's life had not been simple or easy. His mother, his grandfather said, had spent time in prison, and for a time Aaron was in foster care. A few years ago, he was about to move to Texas with his foster family; his family scrambled to intercede.
But in the last year, Aaron's life had stabilized and he seemed unfazed by any of the turmoil. He split his time between his grandfather's house in Compton, which was where he went to elementary school, and his great-grandmother's duplex on East 84th Street in South Los Angeles.
The duplex is cream-colored, with lace curtains hanging on the front windows and a little rock and succulent garden out front. It is around the corner from a carwash, a fish market and a pool hall — and South Central Avenue, the dividing line between the territory claimed by two rival gangs, the Kitchen Crips and the Swan Bloods. It's a place that suffered decades of declines as jobs disappeared and gangs took root.
"If I could afford to move, I would," 78-year-old Mary Hall said Friday. She lives around the corner from the duplex where Aaron was shot, in the house she and her husband bought in 1956 after moving from Mississippi. Back then, the neighborhood felt safe. Now, she said, her 6-year-old great-grandson does all of his playing indoors.
Asked about the changes she has seen in the neighborhood, Hall called over her shoulder: "Oh, Lord."
From the street, many of the little stucco houses in the area, most topped with red-tile roofs and fronted by tidy yards, look deceptively peaceful. It's in the alleys behind the homes, though, where the gangs thrive.
Aaron's backyard, which has a clothesline and a lemon tree, has a chain-link fence at the back. Beyond that is a fetid alley full of dark, standing water, a shattered mirror and an old couch. The walls of the alley are coated with graffiti — "playboy," "scrappy," "circle city."