This is Alvin Valentine's room.
Like the rooms of many teenage boys, photos of athletes and pretty women hang on the wall. His varsity letter from Sacramento's Kennedy High is pinned next to numerous track medals; his football helmet rests in a corner. A large bookcase houses sports action figures, stuffed animals and his high school diploma. The walls are bright pink, a remnant he never really minded from when it was his sister's room.
In the weeks since Valentine was shot dead outside a house party in Valley Hi at age 19, his mother has maintained her morning and evening rituals of coming in to talk to her son. Now, though, La Tifa Lovies addresses an urn.
"I just try to go in there and be with him a little bit," Lovies said. "And when I get too emotional, I leave."
Nearly six weeks after the June shooting, Valentine's family and friends remain stunned by the death of a young man they describe as charming and kind. They mourn his loss and are pained at the notion that some people might dismiss his death because Sacramento police called the shooting "gang-related."
Police since have said that Valentine did not appear to be a target in the early-morning shooting on Sea Drift Way. Officer Doug Morse said, however, that Valentine was in the company of people described as gang members, and that their presence might have been a factor.
No arrests have been made.
Three other teens – a 15-year-old girl, 17-year-old boy and 18-year-old man – were injured in the gunfire but survived. Valentine, whose cousins rushed him to a hospital, unconscious and bleeding from a bullet to the head, died in the emergency room.
"Alvin had so much promise for his future and what he could give back to his community, because Alvin always gave back," said Diane Cornelius, an English teacher at Kennedy High who was close to Valentine. "We lost something great in our community when Alvin was taken from us."
His death is the latest reminder of the reality facing teens in many of Sacramento's more crime-ridden neighborhoods, where large gatherings run the risk of becoming targets of gang violence. While big parties have long been a rite of passage for young people, it is more complicated in areas where armed gang members could show up.
Tyler McClure, 20, a student at California State University, East Bay, is back home in Meadowview for the summer and facing this conundrum. He was at the party where Valentine was shot.
He said he and his friends recognize they should probably just avoid parties altogether, at least in neighborhoods like Meadowview, one of Sacramento's most gang-plagued communities. But parties are cheap, and that's where the girls are.
"There's really not much to do in Sacramento," said McClure, who spoke with The Sacramento Bee at his church, St. Paul Missionary Baptist in Oak Park. "Parties – that's what's left. Unfortunately, it ends with a shooting. It doesn't make sense."
'He just gave and gave'
The events of one hot August day last year help convey the character of Alvin Saivon Valentine, his friends and family said.
Valentine was volunteering at Francis House Center, a resource for poor families in North Sacramento. He agreed to help entertain kids at a school-supplies giveaway called the "Day of Festive Fun."
When his lanky frame didn't quite fill out a SpongeBob SquarePants costume, he chose Scooby-Doo. He gave piggyback rides, chased kids and barked, as Scooby might, at children in the bouncehouse.
"It was one of those really brutally hot August days and he was in that nylon costume, sweating profusely, but he never took it off, never came out of character," recalled Pat Pitzer, administrative director at Francis House. "He just gave and gave and gave all day."
Ahisha Lewis is the mother of Valentine's best friend, and one of several women whom Valentine called "Mom." She said many young men his age are oblivious to the needs of others. But not Alvin, she said, who volunteered with homeless children and since January had been working at Eskaton Care Center, a nursing facility.
"His heart and his compassion, his care and his concern he had for people was way beyond his age," said Lewis, who also works at Francis House.
Born and raised in Sacramento, Valentine attended Monterey Trails High School in Elk Grove his freshman year before transferring to Kennedy.
Cornelius met Valentine when he was a junior and enrolled in her English class. She said she typically tries to maintain a stern veneer the first few days of school to set the tone, but Valentine's smile and laughter softened her up.
"He taught me how to have fun in the classroom, that learning can be fun and we can all enjoy the (experience)," she said. "That was probably one of the best years of my teaching career."
In his senior year, Valentine visited her classroom during his free periods. He occasionally showed up in other classes, too, when he felt his younger brother, also a student at Kennedy, needed a little brotherly guidance.
Valentine was close with his 16-year-old brother, Dionne Johnson Jr., often doing more to make sure Dionne was on the college track than for himself, his teacher said.
"I'm still very sad about losing a student like that," she said. "He did all the right things."
Described as a natural athlete, Valentine ran track and played football at Kennedy. He hoped to continue sports wherever he went to college, but hadn't quite figured out his next step, his family said.
Valentine was trying to find his way, his mother said. What he never looked for, though, was trouble.
"He was trying to become a young man," Lovies said on a recent afternoon, sitting with Lewis in the quiet comfort of her family room. "He only succeeded a little bit."
"He did succeed," Lewis said gently.
Lovies hung her head. "Just not by age."
Youths weigh the risks
Jelisa Office. Lanajah Dupree. ShaTavia Westbrook. Patrick Razaghzadeh. Now, Alvin Valentine.
These are names of some of the young people who attended parties in Sacramento County in recent years and ended up dead. In many neighborhoods, kids know their stories – and the stories of others who were shot and lived. They are the reason a lot of teens think twice before going to a party.
Chuckee Williams, 20, was at the Sea Drift Way party with McClure, but left before the shooting started. It wasn't long before their Twitter feeds heralded the horrible news: "RIP Alvin."
Williams, who lives in Oak Park, said it seemed as though Valentine's death might change behavior. For about two weeks, he said, the chatter on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram was all about staying away from parties and finding other outlets. But it wasn't long before the same people were talking about the next party.
Williams, McClure and Jordan Giles, 19, are longtime friends from St. Paul Missionary. In an interview with The Bee, they said they were torn: They understand the risks but resent that they can't go out and have a good time like kids in safer neighborhoods.
"We shouldn't have to worry about carrying a friend out on a stretcher," McClure said.
Williams and McClure said the night of the shooting they were at a party in Elk Grove that got shut down by police and were headed home when some girls mentioned Sea Drift Way. They decided to go along.
They think the girls heard about the party through social media. One popular Twitter account — called "Sacramento Functions," with the handle @916Functions – has posted five party locations within the last month.
The young men said they often choose parties to attend by ZIP code: Anything in south Sacramento, for example, typically is out. When they arrive, they consider where to park. They want their car close enough that they can reach it quickly if things get dicey, but not so close that they could get caught in the "spray."
They said the majority of the young people drawn to house parties are not gang-bangers. The problems arise, they said, when thugs crash the parties.
They would prefer safer options but said the Sacramento area doesn't offer enough for young people.
"I've been to Scandia like 20 times," Williams said, referring to the mini-golf center. "I'm tired of golfing."
Giles nodded in agreement. Even so, he said, he's stopped going to house parties. Valentine, after all, wasn't the first casualty.
"Not that it's not fun – I want to have a good time with my friends," he said. But "I don't know if it's going to be me or my homies next."
HOW TO HELP
A memorial fund has been set up to help reimburse Alvin Valentine's family for funeral expenses and to help support his younger brother. Checks can be made out to "Memorial Fund for Alvin Valentine," care of F&M Bank, 1303 J St., Sacramento, 95814. Donations also can be dropped off at other F&M branches.
Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call Crime Alert at (916) 443-HELP. Callers can remain anonymous and could be eligible for a reward.
Call The Bee's Kim Minugh, (916) 321-1038. Follow her on Twitter @kim_minugh.
Editor's note: This story and photo captions were changed Aug. 1 to correct that Valentine was shot in Valley Hi.