It was to be a special Friday night under the lights for Jaulon Clavo and his Grant High School football teammates, who were pumped for a playoff game on their home turf in Del Paso Heights.
A few hours before the players were to take the field, five of them piled into a car and headed out for a quick bite to eat. Clavo, an upbeat senior with college aspirations, took the wheel. That simple act cost him his life.
The teammates finished their meals at a nearby Popeye’s chicken restaurant and were headed back to campus when, about a mile from school, someone fired bullets into their vehicle. Clavo was shot in the neck; passenger Malik Johnson was hit in an arm. They sped back to Grant High, a place they considered a safe haven. But Clavo wouldn’t survive.
The football game was put on hold, and on Saturday students and families from throughout North Sacramento came together in a mix of outrage and mourning. Street violence once again had claimed a member of a community that has experienced more than its share.
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“I just cannot fathom why five young men, going out on a Friday afternoon to get something to eat before a football game, could be shot by someone,” said Derrell Roberts, who runs Roberts Family Development Center near the site of the shooting. “It’s a senseless, stupid act. What more can we do to try to reach people who would do something like this?”
Clavo, 17, is the 14th teenager killed this year in Sacramento County, according to coroner’s data. It was the 11th homicide of the year in Police Patrol District 2, which encompasses the North Sacramento area around Del Paso Boulevard and Del Paso Heights. It was the third killing in District 2 of a teenager.
District 2 is one of two patrol areas in the city that has endured a marked spike in violent crime this year – upward of 35 percent. Clavo was shot near the intersection of Silver Eagle Road and Mabel Street in a neglected stretch of North Sacramento that has kept police busy. In 2015, police have taken reports involving 25 aggravated assaults and 12 robberies within roughly a half-mile of the intersection, according to online police data.
On Saturday, several community leaders said Clavo’s death needed to mark a turning point and called on residents to rise up to demand answers for the violence in North Sacramento.
“Our kids need to be able to grow up safe, play sports, enjoy hanging out with friends on a Friday night without being in danger of losing their life,” said Pat Roundtree Rivers, pastor of For His Glory Church in Del Paso Heights.
“We are calling on the community to pray with our hearts and our feet to stop the violence in Sacramento,” she said, and to develop programs to “heal, restore and create opportunities for our youth.”
The Grant community knew Clavo as “JJ,” a starting cornerback for the Pacers and an accomplished student who could be both focused and funny. On Saturday morning, hundreds of people gathered in the school’s west cafeteria, trying to comfort one another as they grappled with the loss.
It was a scene of searing grief, with teenagers looping their arms around one another and sobbing wordless into their sweatshirts. Many wore shirts dedicated to Clavo, with messages including “RIP JJ” and “Only Good Die Young.” A memorial canvas featured photos of Clavo from school, including portraits of him in his football uniform, shoulders erect, his face beaming.
Media representatives were asked to wait outside the event out of respect for the students. Among those in attendance were Clavo’s mother, Nicole, who was surrounded by supporters. Malik Johnson, the passenger shot in the arm in the attack, attended with his mother, L.J.
Johnson, his left arm bandaged at the bicep, teared up as fellow students rushed to embrace and comfort him. “He had this great big smile that you could never forget. He had these perfect white teeth,” Johnson said of Clavo. “He’s my brother. I love him to death, and he will be missed.”
Johnson’s mother recalled how just last Saturday her son and Clavo had taken their SAT exams in preparation for college. The evening before was Senior Night on campus. “We all lined up to walk our kids down to the field,” she said. “It was the proudest moment I ever had.”
Now, a short week later, her son was traumatized and his friend gone.
“You have to worry about everyone around you. It’s just how it is now,” she said. “This was so random.”
The shots that killed Clavo were fired at around 3:30 p.m. on Friday. That afternoon, Johnson, Clavo and the others decided they needed to fuel up before the big game against Beyer High School of Modesto. They went to Popeye’s and headed back to campus via Silver Eagle.
“We stopped at a stop sign and got shot,” Johnson said.
“Once they shot, I looked down, realized I was shot. I looked at my brother, and he didn’t look right. He didn’t look OK.”
The students’ first instinct was to rush to Grant High for help. Clavo was taken from there to UC Davis Medical Center, where he died.
Dresden Vogt, a 16-year-old senior who serves as the football team’s student manager, said Clavo loved football and the Pacers with a passion that was “all-consuming.”
“I just can’t believe JJ is gone,” Vogt said. “We’re a family, and we have boys who are natural leaders. JJ was, and is still, one of those people.”
When the team organized community projects, “JJ was one of the first ones to step up and ask what needed to be done,” she said. “He was one of those unifying factors. It’s something that transcends football, and maybe even school. He was just a good kid, and he brought everyone together.”
Another friend and teammate, Derek Franklin, switched his Facebook profile picture Saturday to a photo of Clavo. “Love you brother. Watch over me,” he wrote. In a message exchange with The Sacramento Bee, he said that his friend motivated him to achieve great things. Clavo had aspirations of playing football for the University of Oregon, and later the NFL, he said.
“He started playing football at a young age, and attended most of the big football camps,” Franklin said. “He just understood the game and loved it. He didn’t deserve this. He was loving and caring and a gentleman to the women.”
Sacramento police Officer Traci Trapani said detectives are interviewing possible witnesses to the shooting and seeking information from the public. As of Saturday afternoon, police said they were uncertain whether the shots were fired by one or more people. They also were unsure whether the shots came from a car or someone on foot. No motive has been determined.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson called upon North Sacramento community members to help police find Clavo’s killer. Johnson recently met with Sacramento Police Chief Sam Somers Jr. to discuss ways to address the city’s rising violent crime rate.
The death of Clavo “hits close to home,” the mayor said in a prepared statement. The football team “has been a source of pride and a unifying force for the entire city,” he said.
City Councilman Allen Warren, whose district includes Del Paso Heights, was in transit from China back to Sacramento on Saturday. “This is extremely tragic,” he said in a phone message to The Bee, “and the kind of thing that we absolutely have to put an end to in our community.”
Warren said he had been in contact with Clavo’s mother, the school principal and police. “We will be addressing this when I get back into town. Things are already in motion.”
Sacramento Police Sgt. Bryce Heinlein said law enforcement officials are keenly aware of North Sacramento’s problems with violent crime and need the community’s help to change the culture.
“I really want to drive that home. Enough is enough,” he said. “This violence is ridiculous. Kids getting shot over nothing.”
Heinlein said police have taken concrete steps to deter crime in the area, including the placement of “ShotSpotter” devices that let police know when gunshots are fired, and cameras that let police see what is happening in a neighborhood. But, he said, the programs “are geared for long term. This issue of violence has been going on for decades.”
Community events can help bridge the divide between officers and the public, some of whom are reluctant to talk to police, Heinlein said. “There are people in Del Paso Heights that are afraid to talk to police because of what their neighbor might think,” he said. “That’s a culture that hurts the community.”
Jean-Pierre Fuqua lives on Butterworth Avenue, not far from where the youths were shot. The sound of gunfire is common in the area, he said.
“It’s like the Fourth of July all the time in our neighborhood,” he said Saturday afternoon as he waited for a bus at the trash-strewn intersection where the shooting occurred. “I don’t know what it’s about.”
But James Van Buren, Grant High’s drum line instructor, cautioned against painting the entire community with a negative brush.
“Most of the time we have beautiful experiences. Then something like this happens, and it blows the whole thing for everyone,” he said. “Everyone is really sad. We just have to take a moment and support one another.
“My heart really goes out to that young man’s parents,” he said. “I cannot imagine how sad someone would feel to lose a child this way.”
With heavy hearts, Grant High and its Pacers are moving forward. The Pacers scheduled a team breakfast Sunday morning and will take the field for their rescheduled playoff game on Monday evening.
“This is for JJ,” said Vogt. “But it’s for us, too. That’s what Pacers do. They get up, and they do what needs to be done. It’s what we believe in. It’s how we show our faith.”
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Grant football team would practice Sunday morning. Sunday practices are not allowed by the California Interscholastic Federation. The team actually had a team breakfast Sunday.
Help solve the crime
Witnesses can contact police anonymously and may be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000. Tips can be called into the dispatch center at 916-264-5471 or Crime Alert at 916-443-HELP (4357). Tips also may be texted to 274637 (CRIMES). Enter SACTIP followed by the tip information.