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Zeporia Smith poses in her home next to a portrait of her son, Johntue Caldwell, on Monday, July 21, 2014. Caldwell, a best friend of Oscar Grant, was gunned down at a Hayward gas station three years ago and the killers have not yet been found. (Jim Stevens/Bay Area News Group) SMITH'S CITY OF RESIDENCE IS NOT BEING DISCLOSED

HAYWARD -- In life, Johntue Caldwell and Oscar Grant III were so inseparable at times that they were called "The Twins." In death, they have twin burial plots in the Hayward Hills, not far from the community where they became best friends as preschoolers.

Three years since Caldwell was killed at a Hayward gas station, with still no arrests for the bold daytime shooting, Caldwell's mother Zeporia Smith wonders if it was her son's close attachment to Grant and Grant's notorious death at the hands of a BART police officer that led to his death. Having no real answers, she is making a plea to the public: Help Hayward police solve her son's killing.

Zeporia Smith poses in her home next to two portraits of her son, Johntue Caldwell, on Monday, July 21, 2014. Caldwell, a best friend of Oscar Grant, was
Zeporia Smith poses in her home next to two portraits of her son, Johntue Caldwell, on Monday, July 21, 2014. Caldwell, a best friend of Oscar Grant, was gunned down at a Hayward gas station three years ago and the killers have not yet been found. (Jim Stevens/Bay Area News Group) SMITH'S CITY OF RESIDENCE IS NOT BEING DISCLOSED

"I feel like someone had to have seen something, it was a busy street, a busy time of day," said Smith, a 51-year-old Contra Costa County resident. "If you saw something, say something. Whoever did this, they took so much from us."

Caldwell was among those who witnessed former BART officer Johannes Mehserle fatally shoot Grant, 22, in the back on the Fruitvale station platform in Oakland on Jan. 1, 2009. The shooting that Mehserle said occurred because he mistook his gun for his Taser, which was caught on surveillance and cell phone video, has been ruled accidental by both criminal and civil juries. Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for the shooting and served about a year in jail, an outcome that sparked protests and riots.


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Caldwell, 25, was killed by an unknown person 30 months after Grant's death as media buzzed about the Hollywood movie based on the shooting, "Fruitvale Station." Caldwell was mentioned in entertainment stories about the film as Grant's best friend and the godfather of his daughter, Tatiana. The media hype, plus the fact that Caldwell sued one of the other BART officers there that night for excessive force in a case he lost posthumously, gave some people the impression that he was headed toward a windfall of cash.

"It made people think he had money," Smith said. "We don't know if it was jealousy or the stigma that got him killed."

Smith last saw alive her son at their Newark home the day of the killing, July 15, 2011. He told her about his plans for the weekend to take his girlfriend, his two sons, and Tatiana to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. First he needed to sell his car, a champagne-colored Cadillac, and get a rental car.

He went to the 76 gas station on West Tennyson Road at Calaroga Avenue to wait for a friend who was to follow him to the buyer's house. At about 5:30 p.m., Caldwell was sitting in the parked car at the station when, while the neighborhood was filled with people, a man ran up, shot him several times, and ran away.

Hayward police Inspector Michael Woods said he works on the investigation in some way every day.

"It was a brutal act to a victim who was minding his own business," Woods said. "We've never given up on this case.

"The family has suffered so much tragedy. The circle of friends have suffered so much tragedy," Woods said. "We would love to tell them we got the guy in custody."

Caldwell's slaying was a big blow to a community of friends and family who were still grieving over Grant's death.

He was a mediator for the clan, devoted father to his sons Jeremiah and Isaiah, now 9 and 7, and was the primary caregiver to his disabled and mentally ill sister, Smith said. He was attending Ohlone College, working as a butcher at Farmer Joe's Marketplace in Oakland. Recalling him always opening their doors to friends who were hungry or homeless, his mother said she admired his loyalty and ability to love with his whole heart.

"He had a lot of dreams. His intentions were to be the best father he could be, the best godfather he could be," Smith said. "I get stuck on July 15, 2011. They say, 'you gotta start living,' and I know that. But sometimes the pain gets so bad.

"These guys, whoever murdered Johntue, they are still out there. It's an uncomfortable feeling," Smith said. "They need to be off the streets, not just for Johntue, but for the safety of everyone."

Anyone with information surrounding the killing of Johntue Caldwell is asked to call the Hayward Police Department at 510-293-7034.

Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.