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Tyre Nichols' "creative soul" honored in wake of his violent death

Protests after Tyre Nichols’ arrest video released
Mostly peaceful protests continue nationwide after release of Tyre Nichols’ arrest video 03:38

Tyre Nichols was a photographer, skater, and young father who loved to take pictures of the sky. He preferred landscapes and loved the glow of sunsets most, his family has said.

Not much is known about the private and creative life of Nichols, a 29-year-old man whose death earlier this month has led to second-degree murder charges against five officers, who were fired over the incident. Nichols died three days after what his family and authorities described as a brutal encounter that stemmed from a traffic stop. Interviews with his family, friends, and colleagues have described him as a joyful, creative, and spiritual young man.

Tyre Nichols, who died three days after sustaining injuries during his arrest by police officers, is seen in this undated picture obtained from social media.
Tyre Nichols, who died three days after sustaining injuries during his arrest by police officers, is seen in this undated picture obtained from social media. Facebook/Deandre Nichols/via Reuters

"Nobody's perfect, nobody. But he was damn near," his mother, RowVaughn Wells, said at a news conference this week, moments after she watched the video of her son being beaten. "He was damn near perfect."

He was the baby of their family, born 12 years after his closest siblings. He had a 4-year-old son and worked hard to better himself as a father, his family said. 

His creative love was photography, and on his personal creative website, he described himself as an "aspiring photographer".

"Photography helps me look at the world in a more creative way. It expresses me in ways I cannot write down for people," he wrote on his website. 

On the website, he had a gallery of what he considered his "masterpieces": bridges and railroad tracks rendered in black and white, the neon lights of Beale Street at night. He took pictures of pink flowers, sunsets over the Mississippi River, fields of grass, and statues of Elvis. He highlights a quote from another photographer: "A good photographer must love life," it begins.

Friends at a memorial service this week described him as joyful and lovable. As the youngest of four children, Nichols was close with his mother and had a tattoo of her name on his arm.

"This man walked into a room, and everyone loved him," said Angelina Paxton, a friend who traveled to Memphis from California for the service. Nichols had moved to Memphis from Sacramento, California right before the pandemic, his family said. 

Nichols worked the second shift at FedEx with his stepfather. Every day, they'd come home together on their break at 7 p.m., and his mother would have a meal waiting for them. Wells said she'd offered to buy her son Jordans, the popular athletic shoes, but he didn't want them.

Protesters march nationwide after video released of Tyre Nichols' death 06:14

"He was just his own person," she said. "He didn't follow what anyone else was doing."

Growing up in Sacramento, Nichols spent much of his time at a skate park on the outskirts of the city. 

"You remember people that are really kind to you, and Tyre was just a really kind person," Chapman said, who also skated with Nichols.  "He just always made me feel really welcome."

There was a Bible study on Thursdays that Nichols would attend with his friend Brian Jang. One day, the group watched a sermon about how the world is filled with distractions. Jang said Nichols was so moved by it that he pulled out his flip phone and dropped it in a cup of water.

"It's honestly pretty devastating to see such a good human go through such unnecessary brutality, such unnecessary death," Jang said.

In Memphis, Nichols went to Starbucks every morning, and Nate Spates Jr. would hang out with him there. They chatted about sports or life. Spates was with his wife once when they ran into Nichols there, and they all talked for a couple of hours. Afterward, Spates said his wife commented, "He's got such a good spirit and soul and calm presence."

Ben Crump Law

When he wasn't working, he went to the park to skateboard and take pictures. His website, called This California Kid, starts with an invitation: "Welcome to the world through my eyes."

In the video footage, which was released Friday to the public, Nichols is heard saying he just wants to go home.  He was less than 100 yards from his mother's house.

His mom still finds herself waiting for him to walk in the door every day at 7 p.m.

"It's not even real to me right now. I don't have any feelings right now," she said. "I know my son Tyre is not here with me anymore. He will never walk through that door again."

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