The Story of the Tragic Killing of Venus & Serena Williams' Big Sister: 'There Was Blood Everywhere'
The gunfire that killed Serena and Venus Williams' big sister Yetunde Price on Sept. 14, 2003, in Compton, California, seemed to come from nowhere
Rolland Wormley, later described alternately as Price’s boyfriend and fiancé, was behind the wheel that night and recalled the shooting as a burst of chaos during their drive back from Compton, California, to Price’s half-a-million-dollar home in Corona some 40 miles to the east.
“I’m trying to get through this. I’m trying to get away, I’m trying to get her to safety,” Wormley told the Los Angeles Times. “Once I get to Long Beach Boulevard, I see the back window is shattered. I look to the right and said, ‘Baby, are you all right?’ I look at [Price] and there was blood everywhere.”
Frantic, Wormley took Price to his mother’s house not far away, where she called 911. Price, 31, was pronounced dead at an area hospital not long after.
“When [Venus and Serena] received the calls from all of us here, they were saying, ‘Are you sure this is correct?’ They couldn’t believe it,” a spokeswoman for the family told PEOPLE in the days after Price died.
This account of Price’s slaying and its subsequent investigation — a 15-year-old homicide thrust again into the spotlight by the release of her killer, according to authorities — is based on previous PEOPLE reporting as well as articles from the Associated Press, the L.A. Times and the New York Times.
The Williams’ sister’s sudden death sent shockwaves through the close-knit family. Venus got the news in New York City, where she was visiting for Fashion Week. Serena was in Toronto shooting cable series Street Time and by one account became visibly distraught when she learned her sister had been fatally shot. Both flew to L.A., where they were joined by mom Oracene (who had Price in a previous relationship) and their dad, Richard.
In those first hours and days afterward, however, it remained unclear exactly what happened, with witnesses giving differing accounts that suggested there had been an altercation before the shooting that involved Price and Wormley.
In fact, investigators would come to learn, the gunman had opened fire on their vehicle as they drove down the boulevard by a suspected drug house. Wormley maintained the attack was unprovoked, though prosecutors argued the shooting was revenge against another gang.
Apprehension of the accused was no less fraught: While one of the alleged shooters was taken into custody within hours, the second, Robert Edward Maxfield, was not caught until January 2004, following months of tracking by law enforcement.
Maxfield, whom police said was a member of the Southside Crips, was arrested in a raid in Athens, California. He was unsuccessfully tried twice for murder before pleading no-contest to a lesser charge just before the start of his third trial.
(A no-contest plea essentially has the same effect as a guilty plea, but the defendant does not admit the accusations against them.)
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In April 2006, nearly three years after Price was shot, Maxfield was sentenced to 15 years in prison for voluntary manslaughter, with credit for the time he had already served behind bars.
In March, he was released on parole. Then he was arrested again in Compton, last week, for allegedly violating his parole.
The status of his case was unclear on Thursday and efforts to reach him directly or a previous attorney in his case were unsuccessful.
Speaking generically, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation told PEOPLE that someone who violates their parole then goes before a judge and could have their parole revoked, at which point they would be sent back to jail.
The DOC’s Luis Patiño confirmed that the possible parole violation is being investigated.
Meanwhile, in the wake of Price’s killing, the Williams family grieved and healed — slowly. “She was a wonderful person,” Serena said in 2004. “We’re dealing with it however we can. Some days are better than others.”
Serena appeared at Maxfield’s court hearings for the first time when he was sentenced in 2006. According to the Times, she told him that, while she hadn’t planned to speak “because it’s too hard for me,” she felt it was more important to say how “unfair” Price’s killing had been “to our family.”
“Our family has always been positive and we always try to help people,” she said.
In an interview with PEOPLE in 2007, Serena said it was “still hard for me to talk about.”
“Yetunde and I were so close; she changed my diapers,” Serena said. “But I finally came to an acceptance of things.”
‘She Meant a Lot to Us’
Price, a nurse, mother of three and part owner of a modest hair salon, also worked as a personal assistant to Serena and Venus, keeping track of their appointments and the like, even joining them at Wimbledon. But she also led a largely independent life in California.
In an interview with PEOPLE in August 2003, shortly before she died, Price seemed to have no regrets about steering clear of the slipstream of her famous kin. “They’re still my sisters,” she said. “We don’t get into the fame thing too much when we’re all together as a family.”
Price lived in a comfortable home in an upscale neighborhood in Corona. According to locals she doted on her three kids, two boys and a girl, all of whom were under the age of 12 when she was killed. On the evening before the shooting, Price and her children visited with friends across the street. She watched part of the Oscar De La Hoya boxing match before making sure the kids would be taken care of and heading off with Wormley on her fatal trip.
Wormley told the L.A. Times that he had been at a picnic and she came to pick him up after he lost track of time that night.
Nearly 15 years later, Price’s spirit remains strong both in her family and the community where they grew up. Serena and Venus opened the Yetunde Price Resource Center, in Compton, in late 2016.
“We definitely wanted to honor our sister’s memory because she was a great sister, she was our oldest sister and obviously she meant a lot to us,” Serena said then, according to The Root. “And it meant a lot to us, to myself and to Venus and my other sisters as well, Isha and Lyndrea, that we’ve been wanting to do something for years in memory of her, especially the way it happened, a violent crime.”
“Basically, how does the family react? If her kids didn’t have my mom and us, it could be really devastating,” Serena said. “But we had such a great system that they’re doing pretty good. We just felt like people that didn’t have that opportunity to fall back on, what could they do? And that’s kind of how this resource center came about.”
• With reporting by CHRISTINE PELISEK