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Neighbors mourn shooting death of Tech student

on September 8, 2009

For nearly a decade, residents living near the intersection of Gaskill and 54th Streets in Northwest Oakland enjoyed a hard-won sense of calm. They’d formed a community police group, discouraged loitering and blatant drug dealing, and a diverse group of new homeowners was infusing money into this section of town, which runs along the Emeryville border. Even the owner of the neighborhood convenience store agreed to stop selling liquor in an effort to reduce crime.

Yet on Tuesday, neighbors were mourning the death of Desiree Davis, an ambitious 17-year-old Oakland Technical High School student killed in a Labor Day shooting.

The incident, Oakland’s 77th homicide this year, took place at 5:09 p.m. and also left a 23-year-old man wounded, according to the Oakland Police Department, which had no further information on the shooting as of late Tuesday.

Witnesses, who did not wish to be identified, said Davis was talking with friends or family members on 54th Street just east of San Pablo Avenue when at least one gunman opened fire.

She died at the scene only minutes later, while people as young as 11 years old looked on. Her death came as a shock to residents who said they had grown comfortable walking the streets and letting their children play outdoors. “It’s heartbreaking,” said Johnnie Stovall, a resident of the area since 1985. “Generally this is a very quiet neighborhood.”

At Oakland Technical High School, where Davis was a senior, she was well known for her easy-going personality and her work as a yearbook editor. Laura Hayes, one of her teachers, said she was a creative and dedicated student. Just last week, Hayes said, Davis met with her to begin plans for the 2010 yearbook. “I was excited to see her leadership skills take greater shape throughout this year, and for her creativity to shine through,” Hayes said by e-mail.

Oakland Tech student Arliss Daniels, 18, said Davis was a mild-mannered person who would never take part in violence. “You would not expect this,” Daniels said. “She was never involved in anything like that.”

Oakland Technical High School spokesperson Troy Flint said the school officially announced Davis’ death to students on Tuesday morning and made grief counselors available. Extra patrol officers will be assigned to the campus as a precaution, even though retaliatory attacks are unlikely, he said.

“She was well known here, so it definitely comes as a shock to the community,” Flint said.

The site of the shooting lies between two churches — Humanity Baptist Church and Breakthrough Christian Ministries. The Rev. George Anderson of Humanity Baptist Church said he hadn’t heard of a shooting in the immediate area in years. The last one he remembered was one that took place outside his church was about eight years ago, he recalled. “When the drugs left the community, more or less, the community became much safer,” Anderson said by phone.

On Tuesday evening, neighbors gathered near the scene of the shooting to share information and to add to a small monument in Davis’ honor, which included a candle and a small painting of an angel. Some expressed sadness that the neighborhood still faces the threat of random violence that plagues much of Oakland. “We solved a lot of the problems but we can’t solve all the murder,” said Thelma Williams, who has lived in the area for twelve years.

Leticia Corona, a mother of five, added a prayer candle to the makeshift memorial. It was marked with an image of St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes. “He’s a saint of the impossible, so maybe this won’t happen again,” said Corona.

Anyone with information concerning the shooting can contact the Oakland Police Homicide Section at (510) 238-3821.


  1. boots mcghee on September 9, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    Scott, well written. I know an in depth article on Des will be in good hands.
    Thank you

  2. Caroline Kelley on September 17, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    I know her mother and met Desiree several times. I am deeply
    saddened by this news. Thank you
    for writing such a nice article about Desiree. I just don’t
    understand this kind of senseless violence.

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