MEMPHIS, Tenn. – He was an amateur photographer who loved skateboarding and watching sunsets darken the woods and ponds of his adopted hometown.
He enjoyed his mother’s sesame seed chicken and greeted her and his stepfather, Rodney Wells, when he came home with a warm “Hello, parents!”
Those words will not be heard again from Tire Nichols, a 29-year-old black man who was hospitalized in critical condition and died three days after a traffic stop on January 7.
“Nobody’s perfect, okay, but he was damn close,” his mother, RowVaughn Wells, said at a news conference Monday.
Nichols, the youngest of four children, had a 4-year-old son. He was visiting his family in Memphis from his home in Sacramento, California, when the pandemic started, so he stayed where he was and got a night shift job for FedEx.
When he wasn’t working or taking pictures, he was skateboarding, an activity he started when he was 6 years old, Wells said.
“That was his passion,” she said at the press conference three days before a candlelight vigil was held for him at a local skate park.
Photographing sunsets in Shelby Farms Park, a sprawling green space in Memphis, was another passion, she said. It was one of his many routines, like running a Starbucks every morning and doing his laundry for the week on Sunday.
“Does that sound like someone the police are trying to say has done all these bad things?” Wells said.
She said at a news conference Friday that Nichols was driving home from Shelby Farms when he was pulled over. Before he left, he had asked Wells how she prepared the chicken they ate for dinner.
“I said I was going to turn it into sesame seeds,” she said. “He loved it.”
She said her son loved her very much and even had her name tattooed on his arm.
“Most kids don’t list their mom’s name, but he did,” Wells said.
Wells said she will miss the cheery greeting that sounded when Nichols came home from work, the skate park, or Shelby Farms.
“All I’m thinking about is that I’ll never see my son again. I’ll never see that smile again. He will never see his son grow up,” Wells told NBC News on Friday. “I wait for my son to walk through the door and he doesn’t.”
Angelina Paxton, a friend in Sacramento who met Nichols when they were teenagers, said he always had words of encouragement for those he cared about.
Nichols’ death “just made me lose my faith in life and humanity,” she said. “Bad things like this don’t happen to good people in my head. It has now made me afraid of the world.
Paxton, 28, said she and Nichols couldn’t go anywhere without him knowing at least one person they met, and that he would stop and chat.
They once made a pit stop at a grocery store while on their way to spend their day at a river. People in three different aisles knew him and so did the cashier, she said.
“Everywhere I took him, he just had to talk to everyone,” said Paxton.
Nichols’ sister, Keyana Dixon, 41, of Sacramento, said her brother dreamed of one day making a living from photography by starting a graphic design company.
That desire was reinforced when she was planning her wedding. When Nichols heard that a photographer wanted to charge her $3,000, Nichols looked at her as if to say “that’s way too much money” and offered to take the pictures himself.
“He captured my wedding day,” Dixon said. “He wanted to see others happy.”
After his death, Dixon looked back on the last text message he sent her on December 30: “Sister, I love you so much, you have so much value in my life. I just want you to know that.’
One of Nichols’ FedEx employees, Rico Howard, said he was proud of his work.
“He was the self-proclaimed box manager, in charge of packing and shipping orders for customers,” Howard said. “He would make sure the right product ended up in the right box.”
He said he liked that Nichols never tried to fit in. Where many in Memphis dressed to impress, Nichols dressed in loose-fitting clothing, not caring what others thought.
“He was the first skateboarder I ever saw in Memphis,” Howard said.
Nichols died on January 10, three days after the meeting with the police which landed him in the hospital. He was stopped for allegedly reckless driving, police said.
A confrontation ensued and officers chased Nichols as he fled on foot, Memphis police said. While trying to take him into custody, there was another confrontation and Nichols complained of shortness of breath, it said.
A photo of his stepfather showed a hospitalized Nichols with blood on his face and what appeared to be a swollen eye.
The Officers – Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith – were fired on January 20 and a grand jury in Tennessee has indicted them on murder and other charges.
Video of the encounter was released Friday night. David Rausch, the director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, said Thursday that what happened on camera was horrific.
“I have been in the police force for more than 30 years, I have devoted my life to this profession and I am saddened,” he said. “Honestly, I’m shocked. I’m sick of what I’ve seen.”
Howard said the way Nichols died weighed heavily on him, and he hoped the events of January 7 would lead to a change.
“The police treated him in any way they could, and it hurt, it hurt a lot,” he said. “But he could be the face to turn things around.”