Kendrick Blackmon's clean past makes it difficult for authorities… ( )
It was dawn when word spread throughout the neighborhood. People stepped outside to absorb the news and then lingered in disbelief.
Kendrick Blackmon — a 22-year-old church musician they all watched grow up — had been shot to death driving home in South Los Angeles.
Months have passed since that April morning and there is still no answer as to why an affable young man who steered clear of trouble was gunned down. Authorities say they have exhausted every lead.
Now, Kendrick's family and friends are hoping that a $50,000 reward offered by the city of Los Angeles will turn the tide by encouraging witnesses to come forward.
"Before I leave this Earth I hope I find out who did this," Kendrick's grandmother, Alberta Blackmon, said Thursday, wiping tears from her cheeks.
Standing inside the 77th Street Community Police Station, the 68-year-old woman who raised Kendrick called the shooters "cowards" and pleaded for the public's help.
"If anyone out there knows anything, please let the police know," she urged.
Detectives say Kendrick's clean past has made it difficult to determine a motive. He was not affiliated with any gangs and appeared to be well liked in the community. Yet the senseless nature of the act smacks of being the work of a gang, said Det. Mel Hernandez.
On April 21 about 1:30 a.m., Kendrick was driving his white Chevrolet Monaco south on San Pedro Street. He and two friends were on their way home from a party. As they neared Century Boulevard, a black sport utility vehicle, carrying what appeared to be five men in their 20s, pulled up next to them and opened fire, Hernandez said.
Kendrick, the only person hit, was taken to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. He sustained a gunshot wound to the upper right cheek, according to coroner's records.
He was just six blocks from the home he shared with his grandmother.
Now, Alberta Blackmon said, the house is eerily quiet. It was Kendrick who filled the rooms with jokes, brought over friends, stocked food in the refrigerator and made her feel safe at night.
He had been dubbed "Lil' Bit" because he weighed only 3 pounds at birth, smaller than his twin brother, Kenneth. But Kendrick had a big personality and was known for his charm and knack for soliciting smiles. He couldn't walk down the block without greeting somebody.
Like his father, Kendrick showed a talent for the drums, joining the band at Locke High School. Neighbors could often hear the rapid staccato as he practiced. He was active in a church youth group as well as multiple church bands. He doted on his six brothers and sisters and his girlfriend, Daeshunae.
Kendrick became an armed security guard at a Ladera Heights bank and aspired to become a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy.
"He just had this ethic and tenacity," said Jocelyn Stewart, a family friend and former Times reporter whom Kendrick referred to as an aunt. "He was always trying to better himself. He didn't just fall into this life; he made a conscious decision to avoid crime. He worked hard to not have it be a part of his existence.
"It feels so unjust that he would have his life ended this way," she added. "It is beyond unsettling."
Kendrick's death has left an emptiness in the neighborhood. People stop by to check up on Alberta Blackmon, who now lives alone.
Alberta said she was harder on Kendrick than her other grandchildren because she saw his potential. She nagged him, dished out tough love, constantly said she expected more.
"Don't you love me?" he asked time and again.
Alberta said she always gave the same reply: "I want you to be able to take care of yourself when I'm gone."
She never imagined it would be the other way around.