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Football star, 17, slain before he could answer gang

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Arrest made in killing of Jamiel Shaw, athlete killed outside his L.A. home
  • Police: Gang members had asked him if we was in a gang
  • Shaw didn't have time to tell them "no," according to police
  • His mother was on duty in Iraq when she got the news
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LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Jamiel Shaw was just three doors from his house on March 2. His father told the 17-year-old high school football star to be home before dark. That is exactly what he was trying to do when, just before dusk, gunshots rang out.

Gang members pulled up in a car and asked Shaw if he was in a gang. Shaw didn't have time to tell them "no." He was mowed down before he could answer, police say.

His dad heard the shots from inside his house and immediately called his son's cell phone to warn him to stay away. But within seconds, the father realized what had happened.

"I just ran down there," Jamiel Shaw Sr. told CNN. Video Watch dad describe hearing "pow, pow" »

His son was wearing the same shirt his dad had pressed for him that morning. "He was laying on the ground and his face was so peaceful. I knew he was dead."

"For three hours, I was just completely blacked out walking."

More than 7,500 miles away, Army Sgt. Anita Shaw was serving her second tour in Iraq. Her commanding officer called her into his office and told her to sit down next to the chaplain. He then informed her that her son had been killed on the streets of Los Angeles.

"I freaked out," she said. "I wanted to run out of the room. I was screaming and kicking. I was shouting, 'No.'"

Anita Shaw is now back in Los Angeles to bury her son.

Police announced Tuesday that an arrest had been made in the shooting. Pedro Espinoza, a 19-year-old member of the Hispanic 18th Street Gang, was charged in the killing and could face the death penalty if convicted, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office said. Espinoza is scheduled to be arraigned March 25.

Espinoza was released from jail -- where he was held on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon -- one day before the incident.

Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton Tuesday called on the community to help police locate a second suspect who was with Espinoza at the time of the shooting.

Hundreds of family members and friends gathered Tuesday at West Los Angeles Cathedral to remember Shaw, a standout running back and sprinter at Los Angeles High School who had good grades and stayed out of trouble despite his rough neighborhood. Among the schools recruiting him was Stanford University. Video Watch as family, friends remember Shaw »

Blue-and-white flowers -- his school colors -- adorned his casket, and photos of Shaw over the years were displayed at the service. Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven" played as mourners entered the church.

"He was a Christian and I thank God for that because I know he's in a better place," his mom said, trembling as she sobbed. "He'd just try all the time to do the right thing. He was so good."

Shaw is one of several innocent victims in a horrifying three-week spate of gang-related shootings around Los Angeles. A man was gunned down as he held a 2-year-old baby in his arms. A 13-year-old boy was shot to death last week as he went to pick lemons from a tree. In another incident, a 6-year-old boy was critically wounded when he was shot in the head while riding in the car with his family; two gang members have been arrested in connection with that shooting, according to police.

"I think what is particularly unnerving for all of us is just the random nature of these shootings," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said last week.

Bratton and Deputy Chief Kenneth Garner met with community members from the South Side of Los Angeles over the weekend to try to calm tensions between black and Hispanic communities. Among those in attendance were Shaw's parents and his younger brother.

Bratton acknowledged some neighborhoods are rife with underlying racial tensions that have "taken too many young lives." He said he is in the process of hiring 1,000 new police officers to help combat inner city gang violence. Video Watch Bratton describe an "always underlying tension" »

"There's no denying that some of the crime in this city is a direct result of hatred, animosity, racial animosity, ethnic differences," Bratton said. "We must all work to the best of our ability to try to prevent that."

"None of it is right," said Garner. "We can't get so incensed that we lose focus that it's going on on both sides."

He added, "Wrong is wrong."

The killing of Shaw has rallied his neighborhood. Dozens of people gathered outside his home for a vigil last week and placed candles, flowers and blue-and-white balloons at a makeshift memorial. One sign read, "We love you! Jamiel Shaw."

On the online social networking site Facebook, more than 100 people have joined a page called "Good people live in our hearts forever RIP Jamiel Shaw."

"Loved you lots babyboi! Still do! I know many, many, many people who are missing you right NOW!!!" wrote Christina Stewart on the Facebook wall.

Another person, Harley Lally, wrote, "Football will never be the same without you. I miss you every Sunday, and every time I step on that field."

Shaw, a junior, carried the ball 74 times for 1,052 yards this season, with an average of 14.2 yards per carry, according to MaxPreps Web site. The longest of his 10 touchdowns went for 75 yards.

He passed the ball one time all year in the last game of the season -- the last game of his career. It was a 60-yard touchdown strike. Video Watch mom's Thanksgiving message to son from Iraq »

But he will be missed for more than his football. The beloved player with the big smile meant so much more.

The father and son years ago had made a pact: Keep focused, stay away from drugs and gangs, and get into college on an athletic scholarship. In return, the dad promised to do everything for his son, nicknamed "Jas," to make that happen.

Breaking down in tears, the father said, "I guaranteed 'Jas.' That's why it hurts so much -- because I told him, 'I promise you, if you sacrifice these years, I'll sacrifice with you.'" Video Watch Jamiel Shaw Sr. ask mourners to make a difference »

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The dad said more must be done to combat gang violence. "It's a gang problem and they have nothing in their heart for people."

Shaw's mother, the Army sergeant, compares the gang members who killed her son to those she's fighting against in Iraq. "To me, they're terrorists." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Kara Finnstrom, Paul Vercammen and Wayne Drash contributed to this report.

All About Los AngelesGang ViolenceMurder and Homicide

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