Star student killed in the prime of his life

Danielle Directo

Originally Published August 23, 2007

Three weeks ago, Michael Lynn Presley II received a letter in the mail from CSUN congratulating him on earning a grade point average surpassing the 3.5 mark. He was now eligible to join Sigma Alpha Phi, a university organization for students who have maintained such competitive GPAs.

The letter came three weeks too late, and Presley would not live to read it.

On Sunday, July 15, the 19-year-old sophomore was shot and killed near his home in Leimert Park in Southwest Los Angeles, said Vince Carreon, a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department. He died about 20 years after his father, whom he was named after and was also shot and killed. He was buried at Inglewood Park Cemetery, on top of his father’s grave.

A press conference was held Aug. 8 at the LAPD’s Southwest Area Station to ask for the public’s help in identifying Presley’s killers, along with the suspects in a double homicide that occurred in the area five days later. There is also a $50,000 reward being offered for information on Presley’s case. Since the conference, authorities have received several leads and “so far everyone has been cooperative,” Carreon said, but no arrests have yet been made.

Presley, who had no gang affiliations, was killed as he stood outside of an apartment near his neighborhood speaking to a longtime friend and her mother. At approximately 9 p.m., three men in a dark sedan drove up as Presley and the young woman were talking. Two men got out of the car and fired shots at Presley from about 15 feet away, Carreon said.

Presley fell to the ground after he was hit in the thigh and buttocks, and his friend dialed 911 from her cell phone, Carreon said. Presley was able to get into the mother’s car and they began driving toward the hospital. An ambulance met them on the way at a parking lot and took Presley to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he “succumbed to his gunshot wounds” and was pronounced dead at 10:58 p.m.

Presley had met with the young woman to drop off a phone, family members said, though they asked that their full names not be used. Presley’s mother said she didn’t understand why it couldn’t wait until the morning when it would be safer.

Presley was a criminal justice and psychology major and the eldest of two children, said his mother, a finance auditor for the city of Los Angeles. First, he wanted to be an attorney, but later changed his mind and decided he wanted to be a judge.

“My baby was going to school. He was doing positive things,” his mother said.

She was just six months pregnant when her husband, who also had no gang affiliations, was killed. When Presley was a child, he would ask his mother about his father and the people who killed him.

“I told him they were mean and evil people,” she said. Her son never told her why he decided on his major, but one day a coworker who used to work with her husband made an interesting point.

“She said, ‘Do you think little Mike went into his major to find out who killed his daddy?'” Presley’s mother said she recalled.

“He loved being on campus,” she said. He had been taking Pan-African Studies and Math classes, she said, and spoke about how he enjoyed all of his professors. When his high school had a college night, she urged him to take pamphlets from several other booths. “No other school mattered to him,” she said. He had his eye set on CSUN and was determined to study here.

He had also just started driving a car, a black Toyota Camry, in May, she said, and would help pick up his 14-year-old sister from school. Before that, she would leave work to drive him to school or to the Target, where he worked in the back room.

Before he was able to get around in his car, Presley was never allowed to take the buses because his mother felt it was unsafe, she said. When she finally allowed him to take the Metro Orange Line, a bus that runs in the San Fernando Valley between Warner Center and North Hollywood, he was so excited that he told his friends at school how proud he was to ride the public transportation for the first time.

“Mom, I told some of the guys (at school), Guess what I did,'” she recalled him telling her. “They said to him, ‘so what?'”

Presley graduated from Daniel Murphy High School, an all-boys Catholic school. His mother enrolled her children in private school to keep them away from the gang life.

Nineteen-year-old Vito Hill went to high school with Presley. Hill said he thought about attending CSUN, but decided to attend CSU Bakersfield instead because it was farther away from home.

“[Michael] was one of my best friends,” Hill said.

Presley was involved in football and track and field, and loved English, he said.

“He was the nicest person you would ever meet and always had a smile on his face. Teachers loved him because he made them laugh and smile,” Hill said.

Jonathan Hayes, 20, went to preschool and middle school with Presley and the two remained friends since.

“He was always happy,” said Hayes, who was an honorary pallbearer at Presley’s funeral. “If you had a bad day he’d try to make you laugh.”

Presley is the third CSUN student this summer to be killed by gun violence.

So far, no memorial services have yet been planned for Presley or the other students who were killed, officials at the University Student Union said.

Pan-African Studies Associate Professor Johnie L. Scott, who still remembers the first student he lost to gang violence 10 years ago, said educational institutions need to do more about teaching young people about the dangers of their own neighborhoods.

“How do we begin to teach to teach these issues to young people who are at risk?” he said, noting that the problem is not just limited to African-American students.

Presley would often go to his grandmother’s house to visit or do homework. The Leimert Park neighborhood could have been easily mistaken for the suburbs of Burbank, were it not for the iron bars guarding the windows.

On the night Presley was shot, his grandmother had been trying to call her daughter, his mother. She kept reaching her voice mail. When his grandmother was finally able to reach her on the phone, she said, “Lynn’s been shot.”

His grandmother said the family assumed Presley would be fine and return home in crutches because he had been shot in the lower body. When her daughter came to pick her up around 11 p.m., they did not know that he had already died from loss of blood when one of the bullets hit a major artery in his leg, Presley’s grandmother said.

As they arrived at the hospital, she saw one of the nurses looking at the ground and shaking her head. When the doctor and nurses came to tell Presley’s family that he did not survive, it was then that his grandmother fainted.

Since her grandson’s death, some days have been good, while others “not so good.” The other week, her niece ran into the house and said her 8-year-old nephew was outside and couldn’t get him to stop crying.

“He was standing next to Michael’s car, just crying,” she said. When she asked what was wrong, “he told me, ‘I miss Michael.'”

Anyone with information regarding Presley’s murder can call (213) 485-2417 during normal business hours or (877) 529-3955 on weekends.