Teen homicide victim dedicated himself to school, family and principal say

Like many of her students, Javillion Ward came to Sharon Douglas’ campus last year behind on credits and expelled from his high school. Ward had a rough transition, and his behavior posed a challenge for the school’s small staff, Douglas recalls.

But when Ward, 15, came to Douglas over the summer and asked permission to stay at Gerber Jr./Sr. High School this year, she relented. She was going against her typical practice of sending students back to their home schools once their expulsions are lifted, but she said she felt the small school would be a good environment for the change Ward promised he would make. She gave him another chance.

“I love all my kids,” Douglas said, her emotion audible. “I had a soft spot for JJ.”

On Monday morning, Douglas gathered Gerber’s few dozen students and, with two counselors on hand, grieved the loss of her former student.

Just two days earlier, at 2 p.m., Ward was shot to death in the parking lot of a Raley’s grocery store in south Sacramento. At the age of 15, he became the third homicide victim this year to die on the troubled Mack Road corridor.

Sacramento police say Ward was with several other teenagers who got into a fight with another group of teenagers. Somebody pulled out a gun and fired at Ward’s group, striking the teen several times, and then ran. Despite help from a passing California Highway Patrol officer, Ward died at a hospital.

No arrests have been made.

Officer Michele Gigante, a police spokeswoman, said detectives believe the confrontation was gang-related.

Ward’s family contests the characterization and said he had committed himself to his schoolwork, not the streets. His aunt, Rochel Hall, said her nephew loved his family and wanted to graduate from high school to “make his mama proud.”

“He was a well-liked, loveable kid, strong and ambitious in life,” she said.

Hall said Ward and his mother moved from Oakland several years ago to escape gun violence. “They come out here, and they run right into (it),” she lamented.

Douglas, the principal at Gerber, said she is familiar with Ward’s background and said he had suffered trauma in his life, though she declined to be more specific out of respect for the family. His first few months at Gerber were tough.

But she said that she sincerely believed Ward when he said he wanted to straighten out his life. He asked for a second chance, saying he was leaving the street life behind him and dedicating himself instead to his studies.

And so far this year, he had, she said. His grades improved dramatically, as did his behavior. Douglas said he was a very intelligent young man who “really was trying to distance himself from negatives in his life.” Several times since the school year began, Douglas made sure to share Ward’s successes with his mother.

“I just really felt he was going to do well. ... I saw a lot of potential in him,” Douglas said. “I’m devastated.”

Mack Road, a major corridor in south Sacramento, has long been beset by crime. By the end of August, police had taken nearly 600 crime and informational reports on the road’s roughest stretch – 21/2 miles between Highway 99 and the light-rail tracks – according to a Bee review of police data available online. Fifteen of those were assaults with deadly weapons; three included firearms. There have been 32 reported robberies.

On the same stretch – a gantlet of strip malls and packed apartment complexes advertising low deposits and other move-in deals – police took nearly 1,000 crime and informational reports in 2012. Forty of those were robberies, and 21 were assaults with a deadly weapon, nine of which involved guns. Ten additional reported crimes involved guns, including negligent discharging of a firearm and possession of an unregistered assault weapon.

Gigante, the police spokeswoman, said Mack Road is in the jurisdiction of a south-area gang enforcement team, as well as the Police Department’s new Cops and Clergy program, an anti-gang effort. She said several patrol officers also are well-versed in the dynamics of the area.

Anyone with information about Ward’s killing can call police at (916) 264-5471 or Crime Alert at (916) 443-HELP. Callers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000.