Man honors murder victims with obituaries

December 16, 2009 7:15:53 PM PST
It is a job no one should have, but one man in Oakland is helping the families of murder victims by creating obituaries of their loved ones. He does it because he understands their pain firsthand.

"She was seven months pregnant, 18-years-old and they shot into a crowd killing her," said Lejon Loggins, recalling one victim.

"He was celebrating his birthday just hanging out and somebody killed him on his birthday," he told ABC7, recalling another.

So many young lives have been lost and Loggins feels like he knows many of them. Through his obituaries, he has chronicled too many of their deaths to count. But, he remembers each one has a life story, a story that too often gets ignored when their lives are cut short by violence in and around Oakland.

Like a one promising basketball player killed on his birthday.

"You didn't hear the part that he graduated with a B.A. from Alameda, a social science degree, and he transferred to UC Davis for psychology," Loggins said.

Or, an aspiring model, hit by a stray bullet while she slept in her own bed.

"What people don't know is that the day before she passed, she auditioned for America's Next Top Model," Loggins said.

As the East Bay's homicide tally grows, so does the pile of obituaries on Loggins' table. He offers a service no family ever expects to need, but Marilyn Harris, an anti-violence activist who works with families of murder victims through Oakland's Khadafy Foundation, says the obituaries are also used as funeral programs. Often, they become a cherished keepsake.

"By him going to the house, instead of the family having to go and look for someone to do an obituary, or have a funeral home to do it, he brings his expertise," Harris said.

It is an expertise that comes from experience. The first obituary Loggins ever created was for his own murdered cousin more than three years ago. Now, selecting photos, writing life stories and deciding on the right colors and messages has become an unexpected full-time job.

Loggins does not make much money doing it, but each time he finishes one obituary it seems like the phone rings again with a request for another. With more than 100 murders this year in Oakland, Loggins' own secret to coping is to not ask too many questions about what happened to each of his subjects.

"I try not to learn too much about it because it would hinder my process, because I'm human," he said. "So, I get caught up in the emotion."

But, it is hard not to get emotional when you are creating an obituary for a 16-year-old.

"He's somebody's prince. He's somebody's king. He had dreams and ambitions to be, you know, into music," Loggins told ABC7.

What Loggins does not know is that when police responded to one particular shooting on Oscar Avenue, they found Philip Wright lying on the floor of his own residence, shot dead after answering a knock at the front door.

As he delivered a draft to Philip Wright's family recently, there were questions no one could answer.

"I want to know who did it," said Wright's aunt Yolanda Sams. "And, I feel whoever did it, they should have a heart and turn themselves for doing this because this was an innocent kid. My nephew was innocent."

At least now, they have a small memento to remember him by.

"I will always remember my nephew. His smile, his walk, just how me and him have our own little jokes and conversation. He was like my son," said Sams.

Keeping those memories alive is Loggins' goal.

"That's the main thing, is I want to honor the lives, honor the families, to stop talking about the number because a number's just a number," he said.

Loggins hopes to one day create a memorial in Oakland to remember all the faces he has come to know, so that others also learn to see them as more than just a number.


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