Slowly and silently, the Sacramento High School football team trudged a long seven blocks through Oak Park on Saturday to pay respects to one of its own, a kid on a life-turnaround plan shot dead just two weeks before playing his first varsity snap.
Robert Haynes, 16, was gunned down Friday night at a house party in Meadowview. Police said the shooting involved gangs. Friends and relatives said Haynes had such past associations but that he had tried to put the streets behind him.
A 15-year-old has been arrested in connection with the homicide in which three other teenagers also were hit by gunfire and required hospitalization. Police said all three are expected to survive.
According to officials at the high school, Haynes had enjoyed tremendous success on his new path. They said he had a 3.88 grade point average in his first month in school and that his work ethic had established him as a role model for student-athletes.
"The kid had a passion for football, for life," said Sacramento High School football coach Doug Cosbie, a former tight end for the NFL's Dallas Cowboys. "He was a model citizen on campus. He was doing everything right."
Cosbie said he didn't know much about Haynes' past troubles. What he does know, Cosbie said, is that the junior running back/linebacker had no discipline problems as a Dragon and that "whatever was in his past, you didn't see it here."
"I do know that since he started working out with us over the summer, once he got into school, he was here every day, one of our hardest workers – great attitude, very coachable," Cosbie said.
As recently as Friday, Haynes, a two-year junior varsity starter at the Grant High School football powerhouse, had advanced to first-string running back at his new school, according to Cosbie.
"He was going to be a big part of what we're going to be doing," the coach said. "He still will be. The kids are going to dedicate the season to him and try to play it in his memory and honor."
Police investigators, family and friends have yet to piece together what happened in the chaos of gunfire that erupted at 11:08 Friday night in the 7800 block of Detroit Boulevard.
"All I know is that my son left the house around 6 o'clock and said he was going to the State Fair with his friends," said his mother, Renita Haynes, standing outside the stucco tract house in Meadowview where her son was pronounced dead. "I don't even let him go to any house parties or anything. He don't hang out in this area."
Sacramento police spokesman Sgt. Matt Young said, "We have established that there were individuals associated with gangs at the party."
He said, "There were either hard words or hard looks that were exchanged" and that "it escalated to people pulling out guns."
"It's just something we see all too often – a bunch of young people that at some point got the idea it was OK to settle every dispute with violence," Young said.
Police estimated the crowd at the party to be 100. Neighbors put the size closer to 30.
At the house on Detroit Boulevard, Arthur Burroughs, 47, said he and his fiancée chaperoned the party.
He said most of the guests were younger teenagers and that some were not even 10 years old.
"We were just trying to throw a teenager party," Burroughs said, "and look what it turns into – a disaster."
Burroughs said the shooters gained entry by jumping the wall from the backyard of an empty house next door and that they stormed through a rear sliding glass door into the living room.
He said the suspects shot Haynes in the back of the head, then turned and shot another one of the victims – Haynes' stepbrother, the boy's mother said – who fell on an outside patio. The shooters then left as they came, over the backyard walls.
Large spots of blood remained on the kitchen floor of the residence Saturday. The sliding glass door had been shattered with gunfire. Another bullet plugged a living room wall and left a large hole. More bullet holes pierced a screen and some outside blinds.
Dakar Ortiz, 14, the host of the party, said the intruders crashed inside, shouted the name of their gang subset "and a few seconds later, they started shooting." He said that members of another subset who were inside the house fired back.
Ortiz described Haynes as a friend who "got out of the gang" from his Oak Park neighborhood and "started going back to school."
At Sacramento High, Cosbie conducted an hourlong team meeting Saturday afternoon in a private room off the basketball gym, then followed behind as the squad headed out into the neighborhood and walked over to the small white-wood frame house where Haynes had lived with his mother.
The team, along with the coaches and co-principals from the school, hugged Renita Haynes and held hands in a circle with her and prayed. The team members then enveloped her in a salute to her son.
"These young men are close to Rob," Co-Principal Ed Manansala said. "It's very evident they're going to honor his life. Our school community is grieving, but we will be honoring his life by improving in all aspects that he essentially represented – athletic achievements and academic achievements."
The school also pledged to help Renita Haynes pay for her son's funeral.
"It means a lot to us for them to show support like that," she said.