|Leonard, L.J., Irving with his Grandma Pearl|
The murder of Leonard James Irving remains unsolved. So far.
"People know who did this, but they won't get on the witness stand," says his mother Lucy Mashia. "If they don't put these killers away then they will go on to kill more people.
"And somebody else's mother is going to be sad."
Mashia, who works as a drug and alcohol counselor for the nonprofit Central City Concern, talked to The Skanner News in her kitchen. On the wall, photos show her son as he was in life: a handsome smiling man with his arms around his mom and his little sister Shauncey.
L.J. Irving with girlfriend Adrienne Milam last Valentine's Day.
On the outside, in her soft, cream dress and matching heels, this pretty woman looks put-together. Inside, she's struggling.
"The grief has been overwhelming," she says. "I've got three little kids without a daddy. They don't understand. They were at his house waiting for him to get home.
"It's so sad. My daughter is devastated by her brother's death. And his dad is devastated."
L.J., as he was known to family and friends, was shot seven months ago, in the early hours of June 26, 2011. The father of three had just left Seeznin's Bar and Grill on 82nd Avenue, where he had been at a 21st birthday party for his nephew, Lamar Hill.
Outside the bar, Hill and another man exchanged harsh words. Irving urged calm and walked his nephew across the street. But before they could get into his minivan and leave, four gunshots hit Irving in the back. Hill was hit once in the neck.
L.J. Irving died at the scene. It was just two weeks before his 35th birthday. His children Zaryn, Ke'hon and Leonard Jr., were just 5, 7 and 8 years old.
Another man, Jeray Lashawn Jessie, 21, took himself to the Emergency Room, and was treated for a shotgun wound to the forearm.
Irving's family celebrated Pearl Mashia's 87th birthday in Lincoln City. L.J. Irving is in the back row fifth man from the right. Lucy Mashia is in white, seated at left of Pearl Mashia at center.
"I tell my folks my son died a hero," Mashia says, "because he was protecting his family. Even though I wish he hadn't, I have to respect what he did."
Several people witnessed the shootings, but nobody has summoned the courage to step up and say so in court. Mashia calls on the families and friends of those witnesses to help them do the right thing. A man was arrested and charged shortly after the murder, but was released. Detectives said new evidence showed he was not responsible.
"People in this community have the wrong idea about snitching," she says. "People have it confused. Snitching is when you get a lighter sentence for turning in somebody else. But when you see someone do a cold-blooded murder and tell the truth? That is justice. That is being a citizen. That is your responsibility."
Recently Mashia heard that one of the two men she believes killed her son was out drinking and partying with two women. That pushes her to the edge, she says.
"It's really hard. How does he get to do that and my son will never be able to do that. There's a part of me that wishes we were in the Wild West and I could take it into my own hands to make sure his murderers pay for their crime," she said.
Instead she holds tight to what matters most: taking care of her grandchildren and her family; and urging those with influence over the witnesses to help bring the killers to justice.
Irving and his girlfriend Adrienne Milam were building a solid foundation for their children
"My son was just a likeable guy," she says. "People talked to him because he was nonjudgmental."
When Mashia talks about her son, her face lights up. L.J. was happy being a father, she says. He loved to play sport with his eldest son. He would throw his little daughter around as she laughed in delight. His younger son loved to bask in his daddy's attention. And he was also close to his girlfriend's daughter.
"He spent as much time with his kids as he could," Mashia says.
"He had all four kids with him all the time. That's why he got the van."
Now those children are hurting, she says. One child is struggling with his anger, another has clammed up.
Irving attended Garfield High School in Seattle, where he spent his teen years. After a shaky period, when he spent some time in jail for a cocaine conviction, he was on an upward track. At the time he died, he was working two jobs so he could pay off his child support debt and maintain a stable family home. He made a mean shrimp jambalaya and 'the best' spaghetti. He hoped to go to cooking school and become a chef. And he was in a happy relationship with girlfriend Adrienne Milam. Milam was good for her son, Mashia says. The couple were just about to move into a new place together.
Mashia struggles daily with her loss. "I miss him. If I get hung up on all my regrets – all these things I didn't get to do with him…" She shakes her head. "I don't know if I'll ever be the same."
At age 10, L.J. Irving hammed it up with a basketball.
It gives her no comfort that the killers hit the wrong man, she says. It just reminds her that gun violence keeps claiming more victims.
She wants to use her grief to make life better for youth, to help the community effort to end youth violence.
"So many kids are dead," she says. "Where are the guns coming from? Somebody is supplying our kids with the guns."
Mashia says she wants to see some good come from her family's pain. The first step, she says is for the witnesses to be brave enough to make sure her son's killers don't go on to hurt others.
"I want to see those people put in jail and then I plan to fight this gang violence. So my son's life was not lost in vain."
As Mashia left to go to a meeting, she rolled down her car window to deliver one last thought.
"You asked me what did L.J. love? Well, he loved life. He loved having a good time, laughing and joking, and being with his friends. He loved life."
If you have information about this shooting please contact Detective Erik Kammerer at (503) 823-0762 or [email protected]
Read Lucy Mashia's Open Letter Calling for witnesses to stand up.