Elgin Stafford, known for his kind-hearted and “contagious personality,” was found dead March 31. He was 23.
Stafford graduated from UC Berkeley as an interdisciplinary studies major, a program that allows students to develop an individualized course of study, before coming to USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
Vanessa Aldrich, who met Stafford in 2006 while they were both perspective students at Berkeley, said that Stafford was always outgoing and treated others respectfully.
“Elgin was the life-of-the-party kind of guy,” Aldrich said. “There wasn’t a soul on Earth who hated him. He was always devoted to the community.”
At UC Berkeley, Stafford was a member of the Alpha Epsilon Chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, an African-American fraternity.
“He was very in tune with his background and heritage,” said Joshua Lomelli, a close friend of Stafford’s at Berkeley.
During his freshman year, Stafford, whose parents emigrated to the U.S. from Sierra Leone, lived on a special interest floor for black students.
“It was more about pride in himself and who he was,” Lomelli said.
Shannon Troutman, who met Stafford 10 years ago, the summer before they entered Carson High School, said her fondest memory of Stafford was at Berkeley after the 2008 presidential elections. Troutman said she went with Stafford to Sproul Hall, where students were discussing the election of President Barack Obama and the passage of Proposition 8. Stafford could not resist chiming in, Troutman said.
“He ended up getting people into a chant, singing ‘We Shall Overcome,’” she said. “They had an American flag and an LGBT flag and he was running around with it. He just got people so amped and excited. It was just something about him that made people want to do something. That’s when Elgin really started to come out of his shell. He just always made sure people knew what he was about.”
After graduating from UC Berkeley, Stafford began working toward a graduate degree in public diplomacy at Annenberg. He withdrew from the program at the end of last semester.
Stafford, who loved to travel, was particularly interested in Japan, where he traveled when he was 14 through an exchange program. He often shared his knowledge of Japanese culture with his friends.
“He was sort of a pseudo-expert of Japanese popular culture,” Aldrich said. “He taught himself the language and knew everything about Japanese pop music.”
Last summer, Stafford interned for U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.). On Monday, Bass posted a condolence message on her Facebook page noting Stafford’s drive.
“Elgin was extremely dedicated to his work and brought energy and enthusiasm to every task he was assigned. … It was extremely difficult to learn of his disappearance and later of his untimely death. My heart goes out to his family and I will continue to keep them in my prayers,” Bass said.
One of Aldrich’s strongest memories of Stafford is his smile.
“He had a remarkable smile,” she said.
Troutman said Elgin’s personality and comportment always lifted the spirits of others.
“He was really outgoing and always put a smile on someone’s face, always made them feel welcome,” Troutman said. “Whenever someone would see Elgin, their face would just light up.”
The Los Angeles County Coroner’s office has not released a cause of death in the case. Stafford’s body was found March 29 in the Dominguez Channel, nine days after he had been last sighted leaving his Carson, Calif., home.
A public funeral and memorial service is planned for April 14 at 11:30 a.m. at Holman United Methodist Church in Los Angeles. In lieu of flowers, his family has asked that donations be made in his name to College Bound.
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Melissa Caskey contributed to this report.