Ervin Coley III loved to smell the flowers in the North Richmond neighborhood garden where he worked. He said last month that he wanted to make a difference in the community where he had lived all of his 21 years.
Instead, Coley became the first homicide victim in North Richmond this year, gunned down in a torrent of bullets as he walked home Tuesday night.
He was pronounced dead at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek early Wednesday.
“Ervin was a positive guy, he just wanted to do positive work,” said Saleem Bey, a supervisor on the Contra Costa County garden project that Coley had worked on since December. “This was senseless.”
Coley was killed about a block from his home. Bey said the man had been struck by at least eight bullets.
Sheriff’s department spokesman Jimmy Lee said law enforcement has little to go on.
“No motive has been established and there are no suspects at this time,” Lee said.
On Wednesday, less than 24-hours after the 11 p.m. shooting, friends and onlookers wandered around the spot where Coley was killed at the corner of Silver Avenue and Second Street.
A maroon stain on the asphalt was the only remnant of the violence the night before.
Tamika Jones, 25, got out of her car with another woman and walked to the spot. They stared at the blood stain.
“When I heard he got shot, I just thought to myself that he was going to make it,” Jones said. “I never thought he’d be gone.”
Jones added that Coley had survived a gunshot wound about two years ago.
Jones said she believed that Coley was walking west on Silver Avenue from his mother’s house, which is near the Las Deltas Housing Projects, to a house where he lived on Market Street.
Moments later, a woman who identified herself as Coley’s girlfriend of four years walked up Silver Avenue to the corner. She sat on the curb and sobbed for about 10 minutes before walking away.
Several residents, who declined to give their names for fear of retaliation, said the shooting was another episode in a long-running feud between antagonists in Central Richmond and North Richmond. They said Coley was probably just in the wrong place at the wrong time – a young man alone in the street.
Friends said that Coley had matured in recent years and was committed to his job as a community gardener.
The neighborhood was abuzz with talk that Coley’s killing may have been prompted by a deadly exchange in San Francisco one day earlier.
Joshua McClain, 23, of Richmond, was shot and killed in San Francisco’s Mid-Market district at around 2 a.m. Monday. Police and sheriffs officials had not made any arrests in McLain or Coley’s death as of Wednesday afternoon.
“Somebody from central (Richmond) gets killed, and now they want to come and get somebody in North (Richmond),” a woman said while standing on Silver Avenue.
Police and sheriffs officials have given no indication that Coley’s death was linked to McClain’s.
Joe McCoy, an agent with Richmond’s Office of Neighborhood Safety, said the next few days may be tense.
“I’m very concerned right now,” McCoy said. “Retaliation and additional violence is what we want to make sure doesn’t happen.”
Bey was direct in his assessment of what happened.
“This was blind retaliation,” Bey said. “There’s a back and forth going on between Central and North Richmond and it’s heating up.”
Coley’s Facebook page, which had 723 “friends” on Wednesday, was flooded with odes to the slain young man. Most of the comments expressed sadness and surprise, with many alluding to Coley’s bright smile and friendly manner. A few expressed more ambiguous sentiments.
“It ain’t ova bra,” one person posted about 12 hours after the shooting.
Coley’s death came just one month after he was featured in an article about local youths working to cultivate neighborhood gardens in North Richmond.
During an interview in early February, Coley was upbeat and talkative, chatting and joking with reporters in-between unloading a truck, turning soil and planting flowers.
“I’ve learned about so many plants, natural remedies and things,” Coley said at the time. “Growing up, I never thought about getting a job in my own neighborhood.”
Coley was working as a paid employee with about a dozen other administrators and local youths on a garden on Third Street, just north of Grove Avenue. The garden is about one block northwest of where Coley was shot.
Bey said Coley was a dependable participant in the program, a county-funded initiative called “Lots of Crops.”
Coley had worked on a garden on Vernon Street in North Richmond on Monday, and near the corner of First Street and Nevin Avenue in Central Richmond on the morning before he was killed.
“He was working at what we call the ‘Peace Garden’ on the day he died,” Bey said.
Anyone with information about Coley’s death is asked to call sheriff’s investigators at (925) 313-2600.
Update: 9:30 am. The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting a second shooting in North Richmond in which one man was wounded and one killed. Richmond Confidential will follow this developing story.