Woman shot dead in front of 12-year-old son honored at vigil; driver charged with murder

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Denise Chiffon Berry, 44, was killed in a Hawthorne, Calif., shooting April 1, 2015. (Credit: DMV)

LOS ANGELES (KTLA) — Dozens of people gathered at a vigil in Hawthorne, Calif., on Friday night for a woman who was fatally shot in front of her 12-year-old son by a man who was apparently unknown to her.

Denise Chiffon Berry, a Metro bus driver and mother of three, was remembered by family and friends at the intersection of Rosecrans and Kornblum avenues, where the shooting occurred.

Co-worker Jason Murphy described Berry as a “good woman” with a “bright personality.”

The 44-year-old appeared to have no connection to the man who killed her, only having laughed when driving by a car occupied by him and two friends just prior to the shooting, according to a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department homicide lieutenant.

Berry stopped about 12:30 p.m. Wednesday to tell a Hawthorne police officer that she believed a Cadillac was following her. As she spoke to the officer, 38-year-old Robert Washington got out of the Cadillac and opened fire on her, Lt. Dave Coleman said.

She died on scene, and her 12-year-old son fled. The boy was hospitalized with gunshot wounds and cooperated with investigators.

“He watched his mother murdered in front of him,” Coleman told the Los Angeles Times. “That’s horrific.”

The police officer returned fire, killing Washington. Two others in the Cadillac — half brothers Stanley White and Brandon White — were arrested. The former was charged Friday, while the latter was released.

Washington’s identity was confirmed by the coroner’s office Friday.

On Wednesday, Berry and her son had driven by the shooter’s Cadillac and spotted someone’s feet hanging out the window and then chuckled together about it, Coleman said.

The boy made eye contact with the suspects, the lieutenant said.

Washington was a front-seat passenger in the Cadillac, authorities said. He got out of the car and opened fire with two handguns before being killed by the police officer’s gunfire.

Stanley White, from Rancho Cucamonga, was the alleged driver; he was arrested on suspicion of murder and conspiracy. One count each of attempted murder and murder were filed against him Friday, the Sheriff’s Department said in a news release.

Brandon White, the backseat passenger, was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy, Coleman said. Prosecutors declined to file charges against him due to insufficient evidence, according to sheriff’s news release.


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  • Kit

    What terrible thing for the victim’s son to witness. Sometimes, I wonder if we’re much more advanced than Iraq, Yemen or Afghanistan.

    • Tim

      You have a point Kit. Look at all the domestic violence on women resulting in murder in the US. Not much difference than honor killings.

  • Cheryl

    Tough one for the son. Why would someone kill over something so dumb. I probably would have laughed too as maybe a hot day and he wanted to cool his feet. As hot as it has been maybe I would want to cool off too that way if not driving of course.

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