The first thing Xavier McClanahan’s family says is that everyone loved him. As they gathered in a meeting room at the Praise Fellowship Bible Church in Richmond after Sunday services, his mother Ligé spoke of his magnetic personality—people just wanted to be around him. His cousin Daniel, wearing an “R.I.P Xavier” t-shirt, said that he was always the happy kid and never wanted to see anyone else sad. His Aunt Katina called him bubbly, funny, vivacious, positive. His father Rufus said he never even back-talked. His favorite color was orange, the shade attendees will wear to his memorial service later this week.
On Monday, February 29, Xavier was shot and killed on a bike path around 9:30 am, a block away from Lovonya Dejean Middle School, which he had previously attended. Xavier died two months shy of his 15th birthday. Richmond police have not named any suspects in their investigation, but say the nature of the close-range shooting indicates that he was targeted.
While police look into possible reasons for the attack, his family is left struggling to figure out why anyone would have wanted to hurt Xavier. “I could never have imagined anyone wanting to harm him, because he was so loved,” says his mother. “People would always tell us, ‘He’s so respectful, he’s so kind, sweet, compassionate’— and it’s been like that since he was born.”
Rufus McClanahan, Xavier’s father, said his son had friends all over Richmond. In a city where the turf you chose to cross can sometimes mean the difference between life and death, Rufus said his son felt he belonged everywhere, like there was nowhere he couldn’t go.
By his family’s account, Xavier was a regular 14-year-old. The middle child of five siblings, he took care of his two younger brothers and annoyed his older sister, though she says it was hard to stay mad at him for long. He loved music and video games. He would spend the night at his cousin’s house and play the game NBA 2K until the sun came up. He had dreams of designing games of his own. He went to church, and sometimes even brought his friends along.
But Xavier’s family says they had been going through a difficult time; they were struggling with their housing. “We lost our housing, and here we couldn’t find anywhere,” says Ligé McClanahan. “The housing market is terrible. My husband and I decided to move to Mississippi, where most of my family is.” The McClanahans planned to leave Richmond in April.
In the meantime, they say they had noticed some changes in Xavier’s behavior. His parents say in the weeks leading up to his death, Xavier was smoking weed, hanging with the “wrong crowd” and occasionally skipping classes at Kennedy High School, where he was a freshman.
His parents say that despite his recent troubles, Xavier still had his eyes on the future. His father says that a few nights before his death, Xavier came to his parents crying and told them he didn’t want to let them down. He said he wanted to get back on track. “That’s when I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to get you out of here.’ And we booked his ticket to Mississippi,” Rufus said. The family’s plan was for Xavier to get to Mississippi early and stay there with his oldest sister; his parents would meet him after they had settled everything back in Richmond.
Xavier’s aunt Katina Jackson-Wade says that since the young man’s death, his friends, teachers and fellow students have held vigils for him every day at several locations throughout Richmond, including Pogo Park on 8th Street. Jackson-Wade says that groups of up to 90 young people have gathered to light candles and write messages. Someone even wrote a song about Xavier. She says there has been an “outpouring of love from the community.”
The McClanahans still plan to move away from Richmond. Ligé says that even if someone is brought to justice for taking her son, she has no desire to come back and sit in a courtroom. She says she holds no animosity or ill will towards her son’s killers, and that she prays for them. She says that she thinks Xavier would forgive them, too: That’s just the kind of person he was.