Lionel Gibson's grandmother, Marilyn Carter, mourned the loss of her grandson with friends and family Wednesday evening. Photos by Keeley Smith.
A group of family and friends mingled calmly in the moments before a press conference yesterday evening concerning the death of 21-year-old Long Beach resident Lionel Gibson.
They lit candles and held photos of the aspiring rapper on a sunny evening, remembering a young man his mother, Alice Corley, said would offer them “the shirt off his own back.”
Gibson was shot while carrying an airsoft replica assault rifle in South Wrigley and talking to three individuals, prompting a phone call from a citizen who claimed Gibson was holding an Uzi, according to the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD).
Officers arrived shortly after and observed Gibson with the butt of what they say appeared to be a gun (which was later found to be an airsoft replica assault rifle) exposed in his waistband. The LBPD stated that after giving clear verbal commands, Gibson allegedly did not comply and instead drew his hand toward the butt of the gun and police responded with gunfire. Gibson died at the scene.
"We train officers to use deadly force if a subject poses an immediate threat with what officers believe to be a deadly weapon," wrote the LBPD Thursday, regarding the incident.
That same day, the LBPD released the identities of the two other men taken into custody on May 7, and confirmed the case is being investigated as gang-related.
"Multiple individuals have gang ties, but we can't specify who has the ties at this point," said LBPD spokeswoman Marlene Arrona.
German Gallardo Rios, 21, of Long Beach was booked on charges of being an ex-felon with a firearm and is being held in Los Angeles county jail, said Arrona. The other man arrested, 23-year-old Erick M. Corrales, was booked for an outstanding warrant involving a vehicle code violation. The third man on the scene was not arrested.
“My son was murdered by the Long Beach Police Department,” said Carter. “I want justice for my son. There’s no way his life should have been taken for a toy.”
Family members disputed any notion that Gibson was involved in a gang. On that day, Gibson had told his grandmother, Marilyn Carter, that he was going to see his girlfriend.
“He wasn’t in gangs,” she said. “No murders, robberies—none of that.”
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department records show Gibson had been arrested at least six times in the last year, with the most recent arrest occurring on August 6 in Hollywood. Gibson’s Facebook page contains a post appearing to confirm his most recent stay, with a write up dated October 11 referring to his being in Los Angeles County jail.
Gibson’s cousin Kam Beaudoin said he and his cousin had recently talked about him getting a job and planning for a future. Beaudoin said he’d made mistakes, but said kids from neighborhoods such as South Wrigley are bound to.
“A black man—a kid growing into a man—the system is set up to have you lose,” he said.
“He was a charismatic person, who cared about people,” said Beaudoin. “I lived in the same house as him—he loved to joke around and laugh.”
“He’d lived in the neighborhood most of his life,” said Corley, just blocks away from where her son was shot at Locust Avenue and 21st Street. “Everyone knows he was not a menace to his own neighbors.”
Carter said she has been left with grief and unanswered questions.
“Why didn’t they use tasers?” she said. “Is it because this is a ‘ghetto’? Really, we are all just working people. I worked in the Department of Corrections for 23 years before retiring.”
“We want the police to take responsibility for their actions; take a holistic approach,” said Beaudoin. “Why did they use ammo instead of tasers or bean bags?”
“The Police Department thoroughly reviews all use of force incidents through a rigorous multi-step process that evaluates legal, policy, tactical and equipment issues,” the LBPD stated. “In addition, all officer-involved shootings where a death occurs are independently investigated by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office.”
"With or without the orange muzzle flash, it is not safe to carry an airsoft gun in public," reads an article regarding the incident from Popular Airsoft. "This has been emphasized over and over again since not heeding such strong advice will lead to being arrested, shot, injured, or killed by the police."
Airsoft guns typically ship with a bright orange tip on the muzzle to distinguish them from real weapons. In photos of the airsoft gun found on Gibson, it appears the orange muzzle flash had been removed.
"We don’t know what were Gibson’s motives were for carrying an airsoft gun that can be seen in public, but what we know is that he died for carrying one," the article continues. "As for us in the airsoft community, the campaign to educate airsoft players or airsoft gun owners on the airsoft safety continues."
For more information, visit the officer-involved shooting investigation section of the LBPD website. Arrona encouraged individuals with footage of the event or more information to contact detectives.
A GoFundMe page was set up by those close to the family on May 7 to help with unspecified costs. As of the afternoon of May 19, $220 has been raised.
Anyone with information regarding this incident is urged to contact Long Beach Police Homicide Detail at 562.570.7244. Anonymous tips may be submitted by calling 1.800.222.TIPS (8477), texting TIPLA plus your tip to CRIMES (274637), or visiting www.lacrimestoppers.org.