Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: A mother awaits justice for her son

Nicole Clavo, mother of slain Grant High football player Jaulon Clavo, offers encouragement to the team during a remembrance for her son at Grant High School in November in Sacramento. Jaulon Clavo was shot and killed hours before a football game. The case remains unsolved.
Nicole Clavo, mother of slain Grant High football player Jaulon Clavo, offers encouragement to the team during a remembrance for her son at Grant High School in November in Sacramento. Jaulon Clavo was shot and killed hours before a football game. The case remains unsolved. Sacramento Bee file

In the days before Christmas, Nicole Clavo has begun receiving college acceptance letters for her dead son.

She has begun posting photos of his blood-splattered car on Facebook, the Chevy Malibu she bought for him last year, the one he drove to Grant High School until someone shot him in the neck while he was behind the wheel Nov. 13.

Ever since the killing of 17-year-old Jaulon “J.J.” Clavo, his mother has been on a journey of grief and unrealized justice. Many have rushed to her side though they didn’t know her personally. She said she has accepted 2,300 new Facebook friends since she got the call that her only son was dead.

“I’m getting enormous support from the community,” Clavo, 42, said Thursday, her first day back at work as a labor negotiator for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. “But I only need one person to reach out to me and that is the person who killed my son. Or the person who knows who killed my son.”

Considering the details of this case, it’s an indictment on an entire community – on all of Sacramento – that J.J. Clavo’s killer is still at large. The shooting took place at 3:45 p.m. at the busy intersection of Silver Eagle Road and Mabel Street, about a mile from the Grant campus. It was still light out. There has been a $40,000 reward posted for information on the killing.

Clavo was a football player at Grant, a school that’s the pride of Del Paso Heights and an institution that links the community together. The killing took place hours before Clavo and his teammates were to compete in a playoff game at their home stadium. Clavo was in the car with four other varsity players. They had gone off campus to get something to eat. Another player, Malik Johnson, was shot in an arm and survived.

Everybody knows everybody at Grant and in the surrounding neighborhoods. Yet silence has ruled the aftermath of a moment that has upended a family and an entire community. “These monsters, these young killers, these young sociopaths have dominated the community by fear,” Clavo said.

Scores of people have whispered names of suspects in Nicole Clavo’s ear. She said she had heard three names of people some suspect of ambushing her son. But none of this information has turned into solid leads or witness statements. In other words, it’s hearsay.

“It’s in the air,” Clavo said.

It would be easy to disparage an entire community for the conspiracy of silence in the Clavo case. But even the mother of the victim knows there are good reasons why people have not stepped forward. Violent crime has risen by more than 35 percent in North Sacramento, an area that includes Del Paso Heights, Robla and Del Paso Boulevard, according to crime statistics compiled this fall by The Sacramento Bee’s Phillip Reese.

“Through August, Sacramento police responded to almost 670 violent crimes, including eight homicides, in North Sacramento’s Patrol District 2,” Reese wrote. “That’s about 175 more violent crimes than occurred in the district during the same period last year, and more violent crimes than during any similar period in at least five years, police data show.”

The response to this spike in violent crime has been more fear.

“People are scared,” Clavo said. “The mentality of this community is that they live by fear. Their parents have grown up in that community and (so have) their grandparents. As toddlers, they were told not to snitch, not to tell. They become young men trying to find themselves, and they act out what they’ve been hearing for years.”

On social media, Clavo has seen this fear metastasize into veiled threats. She saw one post with an emoji of a gun next to her son’s name, accompanied by a vulgarity. That same post also had a gun emoji and an obscenity for “JJ Family.” Clavo said the post was made under a fake account.

She’s also seen tagging on walls in Del Paso Heights that cursed her son’s name. She’s heard people in the community say they thought J.J. was getting too much publicity in death. “I don’t understand the mentality of people who are jealous of someone who is dead,” Clavo said.

She wonders if those feelings might have played a role in the shooting. “I worked very hard to make sure my son had everything he needed,” she said. “He was a handsome young man. He had a lot of cute girls around him, and I’ve often wondered if this was about jealousy. Was that the real reason?”

She doesn’t allow those thoughts to linger for long. “I’m not trying to find pieces to a puzzle,” she said. “That would just drive me crazy. My concentrated thoughts have been on them capturing who actually did this. If I get no other answers other than they’ve captured who is responsible, I’m good with that.”

In the days after her son’s death, Clavo exuded calm and strength in the face of loss. Recently, her social media posts have grown darker and have included images of her son’s bullet-riddled car.

“That was a surreal moment, seeing my son’s car and seeing his blood on it and knowing he basically died in his vehicle,” she said. “I needed everybody else to feel what I felt. I needed everybody to see what I saw. I needed that shock value out there in the hope that it bugs somebody’s feelings. The only thing I have left is to try to pull on whatever little morsel of compassion people have. If this was your child, would you consider it snitching for wanting the murderer captured and brought to justice?”

As days without justice have stretched into weeks, she has realized the enormity of the battle she is waging.

“It’s very revealing of the mentality of our community, of our youth,” she said. “If you can be mad when police are killing our young adults and you’re the first one with a video camera, or the first one testifying in court, or the first one going on TV, where is the movement for us killing ourselves? Where is the movement for the lost children in that community who have raised themselves in the streets? How many killings have to happen in a 5-mile radius before changes are made?”

Clavo said she understands the fear. “Most of the kids in the community don’t have a car,” she said. “You walk everywhere you have to go and you become an easy target.” She said if her son’s killer is arrested, she’d like to “hug him and then shake him. I’d want to sit down with his mother.”

Sacramento police Chief Sam Somers Jr. said detectives have made progress in the case “but we still need witnesses to come forward. The plea that I would make is to look at the family involved. We have to stop the violence in this community. Every homicide is a big deal, but this is one of those special cases. The young man didn’t deserve this.”

Neither did his mother.

“When I want to talk to my son now I have to go to the cemetery,” Clavo said. “I don’t get to go to his bedroom and wake him up anymore like he was a little kid. I don’t get to hug him in the evenings when he is sweaty and stinky after football practice.

“When I got a college acceptance letter for him, it was a surreal moment. I was like, wow, that’s a moment I’m never going to experience. I don’t get to share in that emotion. I don’t get to tell him it’s OK if he got a rejection from a place where he wanted to go. I don’t get to console him or share in his joy. All those moments were taken from me.”

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