By TRAVIS LOLLER and CLAIRE GALOFARO
On most weekends, Tyre Nichols would head to the city park, train his camera on the sky and wait for the sun to set.
“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. He preferred landscapes and loved the glow of sunsets most, his family has said.
“My vision is to bring my viewers deep into what I am seeing through my eye and out through my lens,” Nichols wrote. “People have a story to tell, why not capture it.”
Nichols, a 29-year-old father, was on his way home from taking pictures of the sky on Jan. 7, when police pulled him over. He was just a few minutes from the home he shared with his mother and stepfather, when he was killed in what authorities have described as a brutal attack by five Memphis police officers, who have since been charged with second-degree murder and other offenses.
“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 to death. “He was damn near perfect.”
READ MORE: Memphis anticipates release of video in Tyre Nichols’ arrest
He was the baby of their family, born 12 years after his closest siblings. He was an avid skateboarder from Sacramento, California, and came to Memphis just before the pandemic and got stuck. But he was fine with it because he was with his mother, and they were incredibly close, Wells said. He had her name tattooed on his arm.
Friends at a memorial service this week described him as joyful and lovable.
“This man walked into a room, and everyone loved him,” said Angelina Paxton, a friend who traveled to Memphis from California for the service.
He had a 4-year-old son and worked hard to better himself as a father, his family said. He would get up every morning and go to Starbucks.
Nate Spates Jr. would hang out with him there, and they would chat about sports, or life. Spates was with his wife once when they ran into Nichols at the coffee shop, and they all talked for a couple of hours. Afterwards, Spates said his wife commented, “He’s got such a good spirit and soul and calm presence.”
When he wasn’t working, he went to the park to skateboard and take pictures. His website, called This California Kid, includes what he considered his masterpieces: bridges, old buildings, railroad tracks, a statue of Elvis.
Nichols lived with his parents, and worked second shift at FedEx with his stepfather.
Every day, the two would come home together on their lunch break at 7 p.m., and his mother would have a meal waiting for them.
“My son was a beautiful soul, and he touched everyone,” she said.
She’d offered to buy her son Jordans, the popular athletic shoes, but he didn’t want them.
“He was just his own person,” she said. “He didn’t follow what anyone else was doing.”
After she watched the video of her son’s death, she stood with her family and their lawyers at a lectern, shaking, to convey what the world lost.
A lawyer described the beating shown in the video — “he was a human pinata” — and Wells turned her head away, burying her face into her hands.
In the video, which will be released Friday to the public, Nichols is heard saying he just wants to go home, family lawyers said. He was less than 100 yards from his mother’s house.
Lawyers described the last words Nichols is heard saying — calling for his mom, three times.
“Oh my God,” she wailed as they spoke. “Oh my God.”
She still finds herself waiting for him to walk in the door every day at 7 p.m. on his break from work.
“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.”
AP reporter Adrian Sainz contributed from Memphis, and AP researcher Rhonda Shafner from New York. Loller reported from Nashville and Galofaro from Louisville, Kentucky.