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Father: Young Man’s Death Was Senseless By Judith Scherr

Friday February 24, 2006

Keith Stephens was “a good kid, very kind-hearted and giving,” said Latisha Stephens, his oldest sister.  

Stephens, 24, had his life cut short Sunday night, killed, according to police, by a rifle or shotgun blast at close range at around 7:10 p.m. on the 1200 block of Carrison Street.  

Latisha believes the murder of her brother, a popular football player when he was at Berkeley High, was related to an argument about a car, but police say they are not sure.  

Latisha said she talked to Keith about 20 minutes before the murder. 

“He was the youngest, but he was the strongest,” said Latisha. That Sunday, she called Keith on his cell phone to ask him for some advice about how to handle her 9-year-old son. A single mother, Latisha says Keith was a father figure to her son. 

But when she reached Keith, he had something else on his mind. 

“Tish, I’m so mad,” she said he told her. “I’m so tired of people using me.” 

Keith had sold a car to an acquaintance, giving the new owner time to pay him for it, but he hadn’t gotten the money. Instead the buyer had sold it to someone else and still hadn’t paid Keith what he owed him. 

Latisha advised him to go to his friend’s on Carrison Street to get away from the argument. His friend had a new baby. Latisha said that while he was at his friend’s there was a knock on the door and he went out. That’s when he was killed. 

He’s become a statistic, said Keith’s father, Kenneth Stephens. “Another young black man getting killed in the Bay Area,” he said. “It’s senseless. People don’t care about human life.” 

Kenneth said that people need to focus on what’s happening in their neighborhoods, rather than on the other side of the world. 

“People need to appreciate other people’s lives,” he said. “They need to say, ‘excuse me, I’m sorry.’” 

Police are not saying very much about the case. 

“I’m not sure if we interviewed the person who had a fight with him,” police spokesman Edward Galvan said, also noting that the coroner’s report has not been released, because it is part of the investigation. 

Stephens was featured in Class Dismissed, a book by Oakland author Meredith Maran in which she followed three students at Berkeley High. Maran said that in her book, “I tried to make the life of young men like Keith more comprehensible.”  

Maran underscored the support Keith always had from his family. “His mom was calling me on her cell phone three times a day to make sure he was in class,” she said.  

Stephens is the third young life taken by violence in Berkeley within seven months. On July 17, 19-year-old Dartmouth College student Meleia Willis-Starbuck was killed near UC Berkeley, allegedly by a friend whom she had called for help. On Feb. 10, Juan Carlos Ramos, 18, of El Cerrito was fatally stabbed at a house party on Contra Costa Avenue. 

And 15-year old Berkeley High School sophomore Alberto Salvador Villareal-Morales was killed Jan. 14 in a drive-by shooting in Oakland’s Fruitvale District. 

Keith Stephens’ funeral will be held March 3, at 11 a.m., at the Liberty Hill Baptist Church, 997 University Ave., Berkeley.