Community activist's homicide investigated


One look in East Palo Alto and you can feel the pain and loss. The murder of Lewis has seared the soul of an entire community.

Rodney Mason is one of thousands of lives that Lewis transformed.

"He reaches the top to me, like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X. In this community, you know, Mandela, you could put him in that category for our community," he said.

Lewis was a former drug addict and ex-con.

ABC7 interviewed him in 1994 shortly after he founded the non-profit "Free At Last."

"I have created a program for other people like me," Lewis said in 1994.

Lewis gained national recognition for his ideas to reform criminals at a time when East Palo Alto was known as the murder capital of the world.

"It was like we were in a war and he wasn't going to leave one person behind. If there was any way he could bring that person out, that's what he was going to do, no matter who that person was," "Free At Last" co-founder Vicki Smothers said.

But someone brought an abrupt and violent end to the 54-year-old's life on Wednesday night, when he was shot and killed at the Hillsdale Mall parking lot. There was a confrontation and words were exchanged.

"It could be any of a gamut of things from a chance encounter to someone who followed him there. What we do know is that this was targeted," San Mateo Police Chief Susan Manheimer said. Police say given Lewis' dedication to helping others, they are counting on the community to help them solve his murder.

Investigators are already reviewing surveillance video from the mall and eyewitness statements. From cops who respected Lewis to ex-cons who loved him, there is a cry for justice.

"Last night, I prayed and I said this is one person who really needs to be caught," Mason said.

Lewis leaves behind four children and a family larger than he could have ever dreamed.

Contact the San Mateo Police Department

The San Mateo Police Department is asking for the public's help to solve this crime. Here are a few ways to contact them:

  • Send San Mateo PD an anonymous text to (650) 262-3473
  • Email an anonymous message to
  • SMPD Secret Witness Line (voicemail): (650) 522-7676
  • San Mateo Police Dispatch: (650) 522-7700
  • San Mateo Police Investigations: (650) 522-7650

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