Irvo Otieno had realized his passion: making hip-hop. He could write a song in less than ﬁve minutes. And he was streaming his music under the moniker "Young Vo," while working toward starting his own record label.
"He had found his thing – you know that feeling when you ﬁnd your thing?" his mother Caroline Ouko told reporters Thursday. "He would go in his room and shut the door. And he had it – he was brilliant and creative and bright."
But, the mother added, "All I’m left with is his voice."
Ouko remembered her son’s life at an hourlong news conference that focused primarily on his death March 6 at a state mental hospital in Virginia.
Ouko had just viewed video of Otieno’s ﬁnal minutes as he was being admitted to Central State Hospital south of Richmond, during which she and her attorneys say sheriff’s deputies smothered him, pressing him down until his body was "clearly lifeless." His arms and legs were bound, they said, but he posed no threat to the deputies and hospital employees who’ve since been charged with second-degree murder.
Otieno’s biography is now coming to the fore, not for his music, but because of the shockingly inhumane way in which authorities say he was killed. He was yet another African American man to die in police custody in a case that prominent civil-rights attorney Ben Crump, who is also representing Ouko, said harshly echoes the previous deaths of such men as George Floyd. Crump represented Floyd’s family and the relatives of other Black men killed under similar circumstances. Otieno, who was 28, came to the U.S. from Kenya at the age of 4 but he "was as American as apple pie," his mother said.
As a child in school, he was the type of guy who would invite a student eating lunch alone to join him, and classmates who needed someone to talk to were drawn to him, she said. He was a leader and a listener, someone who took the time to process what was being said and would then "lean back in," Ouko said.
"He cared that people were treated right," she said. "That was at the core of his upbringing in our home. He cared that people were treated equally." She added that Otieno wasn’t afraid to offer different perspectives in conversations, to go the other way "when everybody else is following."
Otieno began dealing with some mental health issues during his last year of high school, his mother said. But she said he also went to college in California, and "had long stretches where you wouldn’t even know something was wrong.”