OAKLAND -- Johnny Feazell wishes he remembered that he had a single Newport cigarette tucked into his black Oakland A's cap. If he had, he says, he might have given it to his cousin, Tyrell O. Smith. And then Smith, known affectionately around the neighborhood as "Burger," might not have felt the need to walk to the store on Wednesday afternoon.
But Feazell forgot, and Smith walked on, pushing his infant son in a stroller. Moments later, three shots rang out.
Leaning against the walls of the Lockwood Gardens housing complex, Feazell, an 18-year-old student in Industrial Maintenance at Laney College, held back tears recalling running to the scene and finding his cousin's body crumpled in death.
"He was just lying there on the ground," he said Thursday afternoon. "I felt like it was my fault."
Smith, 24, was originally from North Richmond but had moved to Oakland "about six, seven, eight months ago," his sister Tunisia Benjamin said. He had moved there to live with another cousin and the mothers of the two men's children.
"He was all about his baby boy," Benjamin said. "His baby was his whole world. He called him, 'Boogie.' He was his Boogie Bear. Tyrell loved being a stay-at-home dad. He was trying to find his way and get work, but he mostly just wanted to be with his baby boy."
Smith, was shot shortly after 3 p.m. on the 6500 block of Eastlawn Street by a suspect who drove up in a car, got out and walked up to Smith, firing without warning, according to police. The boy in the stroller, who turned 1 in February, wasn't physically harmed, officials said.
The killer fled in a car. Sgt. Randy Wingate, the lead investigator, called the shooting one of the most "coldblooded" attacks he had ever seen.
Neither Smith nor the cousin he lived with worked. Instead, both men stayed at home with their small children, often spending hours playing the video game "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare" and taking strolls around the neighborhood, Feazell said.
Smith's mother, San Pablo resident Kathy Morris, said her son had been working hard to clean up his life after dropping out of Richmond High in 2001. He'd earned an equivalency degree and was working for Richmond's Center for Human Development, rebuilding gardens around the city, until being laid off just before his move. "He lived fast when he was young, but he had put that behind him," Morris said. "The baby had changed his world. He was becoming something."
Benjamin said Smith was hoping to go back to work for the agency and that he was encouraged when the organization received a grant recently.
"He wasn't this lazy guy who didn't feel like working," Benjamin said. "He was doing everything he could to find something."
Feazell speculated that the shooter may have been watching Smith for several days before the shooting, waiting to catch him alone. Apparently, Smith always took the same route to the store to buy cigarettes, food or household goods. "He was funny, outgoing; he was always joking," Feazell said. "I never seen him get into an argument with nobody. All he did was spend time with his son."
Police confirmed that Smith may have been returning from a trip to a neighborhood store.
"There was no warning at all," Wingate said. "The suspect had complete disregard for the presence of the infant. Luckily, the child was not hurt."
Wingate said so far police don't have a good description of the gunman or the vehicle but were reviewing video tapes. Nor do they have a motive for the slaying, though they said this does not appear to be a random attack. No arrests have been made. After the shooting, the little boy was quickly scooped up and taken to safety by a resident. The child was reunited with his mother Wednesday night.
"I'm just trying to be strong and get (Smith) buried," Morris said. "I've got to try to be strong, because if I'm not, it will tear this family apart, and that's the last thing my baby would've wanted."
Police said the area where Smith was killed is "not a bad one or extremely dangerous." Wingate said there were "numerous people walking around" when the shooting happened and police need help from the community to solve the case.
Police and Crime Stoppers of Oakland are offering up to $10,000 in reward money for information leading to an arrest in the case. Call police at 510-238-3326 or a tip line at 510-773-2805 or Crime Stoppers at 510-777-8572 or 510-777-3211.