Increasing homicides in Oakland leaving families and community traumatized

When it happened, Sheri Roberson didn’t know how to break the tragic news to her 4-year-old daughter Azaria. 

But after talking with counselors and her faith community, she eventually found the words to tell the young girl her dad was dead.

"The questions started to come about where is he? What’s going on? Why can’t I talk to him? Why can’t I see him?" Roberson said in a recent interview with KTVU.

Conversations like these are increasingly happening in Oakland as homicides near a 10-year high and street violence swells out of control. 

It’s the unseen side of tragedies: Victims are left without answers and trauma continues for decades or longer, often promoting a climate that only leads to more violence. 

Oakland has seen 119 homicides as of Monday, already surpassing the 102 homicides that happened last year. The numbers are approaching the all-time high body count from the 1980s and 1990s.

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Experts say even if the violence begins to decrease, the trauma from the killings will last a lifetime.

"Without really good support and resources and intervention, people suffer with this for years," said Dr. Gena Castro Rodriguez, a clinical psychologist and victim advocate with the California Prosecutors Alliance. "Things don’t get settled. Things don’t get resolved. We don’t get answers. People continue to feel unsafe, so it just builds on itself and we continue to see this cycle."

For Roberson, the horror began on March 31. She woke up to a call just before midnight saying her daughter’s father had been shot. 

She arrived at the scene on the 600 block of 53rd Street in North Oakland with her then-3-year-old in her arms. Her daughter’s dad – 40-year-old Akbah Allahbey – was shot dead in his car. 

No suspect has been identified or arrested in the case. 

"There’s been no closure, no justice," Roberson said. "As far as we know he’s just not here. We don’t know why. We don’t know who. We don’t know. And that’s just hard."

She said a counselor helped her describe what happened in terms Azaria would understand. She explained that "daddy’s body doesn’t work anymore" and that she won’t ever see him again. 

"I didn’t know what to say or how to say it to try to explain to a child something like that and to say it in an appropriate way," Roberson said. 

Her friend Barbara Bell has been helping her struggle with the grief. Bell lost her niece when two teenage girls were killed in a shooting on a party bus in Oakland in May. 

"Post-traumatic stress disorder is real," Bell said. "I think that we don’t feel safe anywhere in the world. It’s been very painful. I can’t sit here and act like I’m not in pain. I’m in pain every single day."

Oakland Chief Leronne Armstrong is an Oakland native and knows well the long-term effects this violence will bring. 

Just last month, Ersie Joyner, the retired head of the department’s Ceasefire program was shot in a robbery at a gas station, and in another tragedy, a 15-year-old girl was shot dead in a road rage incident.

The already bleak situation took an even more upsetting turn over the weekend when 23-month-old Jasper Wu was killed by a stray bullet while sleeping in his car as his mother drove down Interstate 880 in Oakland. 

"There’s so much violence, so many guns, so many senseless lives lost," Armstrong said at a news conference earlier this year. "This is not a calling to everybody in this community that there is a crisis, I don't know what is." 

Roberson recognized the pain isn’t going away anytime soon. But while she knows there are challenges ahead, she said she’s determined to give her daughter the best life she can.

"That’s one thing I try to live by is being resilient," she said. "I refuse to give up and I have to set an example for her. She sees everything."

Evan Sernoffsky is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email Evan at and follow him on Twitter @EvanSernoffsky