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STANDING UP

A young shooting victim wrestles with his fears

Davien Graham tried to do right in his rough neighborhood in Monrovia. Paralyzed in a shooting, he knew what could happen if he snitched. He also knew that a Christian shouldn't lie.

November 18, 2012|Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times

After the nightmares started, Davien Graham avoided his bicycle.

In his dreams, he pedaled his silver BMX bike through his neighborhood, heard gunfire and died.

If I stay off my bike, I'll be safe, he thought.

He placed it in a backyard shed, where it sat for months. But Jan. 12, 2008, dawned so spectacular that Davien decided to risk it.

He ate Cap'n Crunch Berries cereal, grabbed the bike and rode a half-mile west to Calvary Grace, a Southern Baptist church that was his haven.

Davien lived with an unemployed aunt and uncle, a former Crip, and five other kids in a cramped four-bedroom house in Monrovia, about 20 miles east of Los Angeles.

Yet as a 16-year-old junior at Monrovia High School, Davien earned A's and B's, played JV football and volunteered with the video club. He cleaned the church on Saturdays for minimum wage.

If I live right, God will protect me.

That afternoon, sweaty from cleaning, Davien reached for his wallet to buy a snack — only to realize he had forgotten it at home.

After returning to his house, he caught his reflection in the front window. He was 6 feet 2 and wiry. His skinny chest was beginning to broaden. He was trying to add weight to his 160-pound frame in time for varsity football tryouts.

He showered, told his aunt he would be right back and again jumped on his bike, size-14 Nike Jordans churning, heading for a convenience store near the church.

At the store, he bought Arizona fruit punch and lime chili Lay's potato chips. He recognized a kindergarten-age Latino boy and bought him Twinkies.

Davien pedaled down the empty sidewalk along Peck Road. He could hear kids playing basketball nearby. As he neared the church, a car passed, going in the opposite direction. He barely noticed.

He heard car tires crunching on asphalt behind him. He glanced back, expecting a friend.

Instead he heard: "Hey, fool."

The gun was gray. It had a slide. Davien recognized that much from watching the Military Channel.

Behind the barrel, he saw forearms braced to fire and the face of a Latino man, a former classmate.

The gunman shouted, "Dirt Rock!," cursing a local black gang, the Duroc Crips.

Davien's mind raced: Don't panic. Watch the barrel. Duck.

Suddenly, he was falling. Then he was on the ground, looking up at the church steeple and the cross.

He heard more shots, but stopped feeling them. A chill crept up his legs.

Davien watched the sedan disappear down the street. He saw the boy he had bought the Twinkies for and other children spilling out of a nearby apartment building.

He was having trouble breathing. He felt sleepy.

He tried to raise his eyelids to see if the shooter was returning. He knew gangsters don't like to leave witnesses.

::

Davien was raised not to snitch.

He grew up south of the Foothill Freeway and Monrovia's quaint downtown, in a frayed, unincorporated area neighbors call No Man's Land.

The oldest of six children, he learned as a small boy not to feel safe anywhere. He played under the towering pines and sweet gum trees of Pamela Park, where gangbangers stashed guns in bathrooms and addicts left crack pipes in sandboxes.

He witnessed his first drive-by when he was 4 years old. He came to recognize the sound, "like a loud drum, a thunderclap."

He grew leery of sedans with tinted windows, "drive-by cars," and gangsters who sprinted past his house and across "the wash," a drainage canal, with police in pursuit.

For Davien's safety, a relative had walked him to school — until he, too, was shot and his body dumped in the wash.

Davien had one goal in mind: to make it to his 21st birthday.

Drug dealers, bookies and hustlers called to him from the streets: "Hey, Day Day! You just like your dad."

The comparison made him cringe. Davien's father, Steven Graham, or Steve-O, was a Crip who pleaded guilty to cocaine possession weeks after Davien was born. Steve-O would spend several years in prison.

Afterward, on days Steve-O got high or drank too much, he would put on his sunglasses and take Davien out to the yard for lessons in manhood, often bringing a shotgun.

Davien's mother, Sharri McGhee, also struggled with drugs.

Even so, when times were good, Davien felt as though he belonged to a normal family. His mother would check them into an Embassy Suites hotel so they could swim in the pool. It felt like Disneyland.

Then he woke up one morning and all his videos and the TV and VCR were gone, and he saw his dad walking home because he had sold the car, too.

By the time he started school, Davien had learned not to depend on adults for protection. He saw kids whisked away from their parents by the state, or sent to juvenile hall. He promised his younger brothers he would take care of them.

One day he found his pregnant mother lying on the back patio, convulsing. At the hospital, she delivered a premature baby girl with drugs in her system.

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