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'The racism needs to stop,' says family of shooting victim Mark Gassett, killed walking home with groceries

The Fresno Bee - 4/20/2017

April 19--Rosie Wagner fights back tears as she recalls her son's final moments on Earth -- fatally shot by a gunman he didn't know while walking home carrying a bag of groceries from Catholic Charities. A security guard from the social service agency rushed to her son's side as he crumpled to the concrete.

"He held my son's hand until he took his last breath," Wagner says tearfully, "and I'm so grateful that he was there with him, so he didn't die alone."

The alleged gunman, Kori Ali Muhammad, 39, was arrested following the rampage in downtown Fresno Tuesday that killed two other people. Fresno police said the shooting was random -- apart from Muhammad saying he wanted to kill white people -- and that Muhammad fired two more rounds into Gassett as he lay gravely wounded on the pavement.

It's a nightmare that Gassett's ex-wife, Lisa Gassett, says she hasn't awakened from yet, but she's trying to find small comforts in the horror: "Knowing that when the man shot him, that it was quick and fast," she says through tears, "and knowing that there is good people out there that were trying to help him."

The senseless violence is hard to understand.

"He didn't deserve this, like the other victims," says his mother. "They didn't deserve this, they didn't deserve to die, and I miss him -- a lot."

The 37-year-old Central High School graduate was the father of two boys, Layten, 9, and Troy, 14.

"He was the nicest daddy in the world," Layten says. "He would take care of me and make me smile and take care of me since I was a baby. ... He's funny and really nice and he made me laugh all the time -- made me smile."

Layten shared these memories alongside his family as relatives gathered near his grandmother's home in a Fresno mobile home park on Wednesday afternoon. Layten spent a lot of time checking a GoFundMe account to raise money for his father's memorial. Family says Layten has been worried they won't raise enough for his dad to have a memorial service.

Wagner said her son was on disability and looking for work at the time of his death. He was previously employed as a woodworker and at a Fresno furniture store that is now closed.

"He had his hard times," Lisa Gassett says. "He was trying to find a good job and get back on his feet, and he just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time."

Family says having little didn't stop him from giving back.

"He would give his shirt off his back for anybody," his ex-wife says, "that was the kind of guy he was."

Gassett was living in a large Fresno home with others, but had been homeless in the past, Lisa Gassett says, and that experience made him more compassionate to those in need. She said he often helped other homeless people, giving them food and inviting them over for dinner, and that if anyone ever needed something, "he was there in a heartbeat."

Family says he enjoyed woodworking, fishing, camping and skateboarding, and described him as happy, goofy, silly and kind.

"He never had nothing bad to say about anybody -- ever -- no matter what was going on," his mother says. "He was very peaceful, not angry or anything."

Stephanie Rodriguez, Gassett's stepsister, says Gassett always looked at what was inside a person, not the color of someone's skin: "He never looked at color -- ever."

Rodriguez shared a plea with the community: "The hatred needs to stop, the racism needs to stop."

Lisa Gassett is thinking of her two young sons to help her push through the pain:

"My boys are what keep us going every day -- their smiles, their happiness," she says tearfully, "and I know their dad will be watching over them."

Carmen George: 559-441-6386, @CarmenGeorge and Marc Benjamin: 559-441-6166, @beebenjamin

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(c)2017 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.)

Visit The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.) at www.fresnobee.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 
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