Richmond Mom Uses Social Network to Mourn Murdered Son

News Report, Story by: Donny Lumpins // Photos by: Kerri Connolly // Audio by: Malcolm Marshall,
Oct 05, 2010

Editor’s Note: In 2006, Travante James was tragically murdered in Richmond. While mourning the loss of her son, Kelly Smith began writing on Travante’s MySpace page in hopes of reaching out to the person who killed her son, but the social network also provided Smith with a place to express her grief. Donny Lumpkins is a senior content producer for YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia. Kerri Connolly is a reporter at Richmond Confidential. Malcolm Marshall is the producer of YO!Radio.

If you happened to stumble upon Travante James’ MySpace page, at first glance it would look like the average social networking page of a 24-year-old. Complete with boastful bravado,  a beautiful model with a rather large ass as his wallpaper, and clever one-liners in the ‘About Me’ section. His hair and eye color: Brown. Favorite pizza: BBQ chicken and mushroom. McDonald’s or Burger King: Mickey D’s. Goals for the year: Would like to stay paid and out of trouble. Biggest fear: Death.

Travante’s MySpace page is like that of any other young adult male, with one exception. He hasn’t updated it himself since October 2006 – not because he moved to Facebook or any other social network of the day, like most young people, but because that year he was gunned down while sitting in his car at 4:30 a.m. across the street from one of the tent cities set up to end the violence in Richmond, Calif., one of the most violent cities in America.

The blog section of Travante’s MySpace has been updated a number of times since his death by his mother, Kelly Smith, who in the days following her eldest son’s death was looking for a way to express her grief and reach out to the people who loved her son, and possibly the person who is responsible for taking his life on that early fall morning. Smith wrote in Travante’s blog section for two years, from Nov. 9, 2006 to Dec. 7, 2008.

“I would always write when I was feeling really sad, or if I had something to say. I wanted people to know how much I missed Travante, how much he meant to me, how [his murder] has just destroyed my family.”

In her first blog Smith writes: “I know he was luv’d. but know no one cud luv him more than me. it’s not just bcuz he was my son but bcuz he was my best friend. Always had been and can never be replaced. Who cud do this to me?”

Smith said she always feared her son would die too soon. His life had been at risk from as early as birth. Travante was born with a hematoma on his head from complications in birth. Doctors later found out he had pyloric stenosis, which caused him to have surgery at just six weeks old. It took a lot for Kelly to get Travante here, only to have him taken away in a hail of gunfire just six weeks before his 21st birthday.

Smith thought her son’s killer might have been one of his friends on MySpace. In the first and only time she addresses her son’s killer directly, in a blog in August 2007, she pleads for answers to questions she can’t seem to shake.

“Why did you kill him?” she wrote. “Are you really a person acting like a friend when you was hating on him all the time. Why didn’t you let him know? You didn’t have to KILL HIM … I now hope he did something to deserve it. I hope he hurt you bad enough to kill him. I hope he didn’t die for some bullshit.”

Throughout the blog, Smith expresses this inescapable loss and desire for answers she may never get. She says she’s only had a few dreams about him, some good and some not so good. In one blog, she talks about one of her more disturbing dreams.

“My most recent dream about him was that I was having wakes for him everywhere and I had to pay cash for all of them, and that the different funeral homes would display his body differently. One had displayed him laying on his stomach with his eyes open. I thought in the dream that this funeral place had done the best job.”

Read more from this blog post:

She wrote that in that dream, she had to buy everyone pills to take because the body had been out to long.

She also had a dream that there was a pill she could give to Travante to keep him alive for five more days so she could tell him everything she wanted. She wrote, “In that dream I saw the bullet holes and autopsy scars on his body.”

In the process of trying to heal, Smith has been faced with her own past. She was born to a schizophrenic mother. She was sent to a foster family at six days old and she never quite felt like she had a family until she had Travante.

She questions her faith in the blog, unsure what place religion plays in her grief. “You know, what if what were taught is false? I mean about religion, about the after life. What if the last time I saw my son is really the last time, ever. Or anybody that has died.  It hurts so much to lose a loved one, that u think and have been taught that you have to see them again one day, but what if. What if u don’t?”

Read more:

In my interview with Kelly Smith, she spoke about the tent city her son was murdered in front of, and the mishandling of her son’s death by reporters.

In the news, it was reported that the “James” family had no comment. Kelly says no one contact her from the media, and the fact that they used the last name of his father, a man who has been incarcerated for most of Travante’s life, instead of her surname, “Smith,” just added insult to injury. She believed it proved that she was solely responsible for setting the record straight, something she repeatedly tried to do in her blog entries.

Kelly wrote that she had no desire for revenge. “I don’t want another mother to hurt,” she writes. But that doesn’t mean her anger is gone. On the contrary, it is squarely directed at the Richmond police, who have failed to solve her son’s murder and the murders of many other young men in Richmond. She says when she called to see if the police had made any progress in her son’s murder, a rude policewoman told her the cops handling her son’s case were “off.”

“I said, ‘Off?’ It’s the first 48 hours. How could they be off? And she said, ‘Aw, well the street talks.’ Like he was just a cat or dog. That’s how she talked to me and I was so mad. It’s been four years and the street hasn’t spoken yet. I wish I had her name, whoever talked to me like that two days after my son’s murder.”

Smith and her younger son, who was just 13 when his brother was killed, are doing their best to continue on in the years after Travante’s death. Families in Richmond go back generations, with bonds that mirror those of the south, where everyone knows everyone. You can’t throw a rock without hitting someone who is a friend of the family or a direct relative. But with all the good things that come with family, there are equal parts bad. Smith moved out of Richmond for fear that she would see her son’s killer around town, and constantly wonder if the guy bagging her groceries or the man waiting for the bus could be responsible for killing the most important person in her life.

Though she is trying to move on, little things make it difficult. The 20th of every month is a grim anniversary for Smith; it’s one more month since she’s seen her son. The fourth anniversary of Travante’s death is this month, and Smith says she’s “constantly aware of it.” She does her best to will herself not to think about it.

“These last couple months will be really sad for me because this will be the fourth year that he’s gone. This is going to be the fifth Halloween. This is gonna be the fifth Thanksgiving, the fifth birthday [he would have been 25 this year], the fifth Christmas without him,” said Smith.

Smith says she wants her son to be remembered, and wants people to know that he was a good son.

“He was a wonderful son, and I know probably made people mad and done things to people and that he was no angel, but that doesn’t take away what a good son he was,” she said. “I loved my son. He didn’t deserve to be murdered and taken away form me, no matter what he did.”

As the years passed, the tone of the blog started to change. Smith started to write about stopping all violence in Richmond and putting an end to the killing of black men by other black men.

In Richmond, murder is commonplace. Many families are left without resolve or justice. All they get is a blip on the news if they are lucky. The murders of their loved ones and the stories of their lives go untold. Kelly does not want that fate for her son. Even with all the troubles in his life, she still wants Travante to be remembered as she remembers him: often and with love. She can’t stand the idea of her son being forgotten, and that’s one of the reasons she started writing the blog. In one of her last entries, just five blogs before her final one on Dec. 7, 2008 — when she stopped blogging and left Travante’s MySpace page as a memorial of her son’s life — she writes about a picture of Travante that was drawn by a friend when he was about two:

“I’m gonna write my story and paste it 2 the back of the pic and hope it doesn’t get thrown away, it might end up @ a flea market or something and if it does I want somebody to know that this was my baby and what happened to him. And what this pic meant 2 me. I want his life to matter. I want some1 to care, for some1 to be concerned 4 me. I want them 2 know the story of Travante N. James and the pic of the little boy.”

To read more from Kelly Smith’s posts, click the link below


Post A Comment

Enjoy our content?