OAKLAND (BCN) – A man who was gunned down outside the Allen Temple Baptist Church in East Oakland on Tuesday had just been released from prison a month ago but was trying to turn his life around by taking classes, church officials said Wednesday.
The Rev. J. Alfred Smith Sr., the pastor emeritus at the church, said Oakland police told him that Leon Wilson, a 46-year-old Oakland resident, “came out of the Richmond corridor and had some trouble with the law” but was in a program to earn a high school equivalency degree so he could find a job.
Wilson “was endeavoring to turn his life around and wanted a better future and was taking steps to make his life better,” Smith said.
According to Oakland police, Wilson was attending a class at the church, located at International Boulevard and 85th Avenue, at about 11:45 a.m. Tuesday when he got a cell phone call that prompted him to step outside, where he was fatally shot by a gunman who then escaped in a car.
“He fell at the foot of the cross across the gate” at the church’s entrance, Smith said.
Reem El-Rifai, associate director of the Allen Temple Housing and Economic Development Corp., which helps run the high school equivalency program, said Wilson “was enthusiastic and was happy to start a new life.”
She said she feels “very sad” about his death.
El-Rifai said Wilson’s sister and niece came to the church after he was shot.
The Rev. J. Alfred Smith Jr., the son of the elder Smith and the church’s senior pastor, said, “This event reinforces our need to provide programs to help people and encourages us to do more rather than discourages us.”
Wilson “did not die in vain,” Smith Jr. said.
Smith Jr. said Allen Temple, which was founded in 1919, has received a $430,000 grant from the California Endowment to combat violence and fatalities in Oakland and Richmond.
KCBS’ Bob Melrose Reports:
He said the program will develop a training and civic engagement program to help African American faith leaders promote violence prevention and health justice in those two cities.
The shooting was the first on the church’s property in its 90-year history, Smith Jr., said.
But he said there have been many fatal shootings near the church and he and his father have both been beaten up on church property.
“We’re not discouraged by this and our mission is to change this environment,” Smith Jr. said.
“We’ve had a history of violence here but we’ve made the decision not to flee to the safety of suburbia,” he said.
(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News contributed to this report.)