The mother of a 30-year-old Australian personal trainer murdered in Los Angeles has welcomed the arrest of her suspected killer, saying one thing helping her through this devastating time was making sure her son gets justice.
Former Sydney resident Azuma Bennett was shot multiple times outside a medicinal cannabis dispensary in August, just weeks before he returned to Australia for a holiday.
Los Angeles police recently arrested a local man for his murder.
In an exclusive interview, Victoria Milton told SBS News that Azuma moved to the United States in 2019 to connect with her African American culture after her father died a few years earlier.
“He was still mourning the loss of his father…as he left, as well as his African-American heritage,” Ms Milton said.
“Growing up as a young black man, a black child, he always felt different, noticeably different from other people and, obviously, he suffered from prejudice at times as well.
“I think that’s just part of really finding yourself.”
Azuma Bennett with his father Randy. Source: Provided
Azuma was due to return to Australia for the first time since arriving in Los Angeles just weeks before his death.
“One of his best friends, Eddie, was getting married…and so Azuma was coming back for that,” Ms Milton said.
“So it was a very heartbreaking time to go there [LA]knowing he was soon on his way here, and going there knowing he was gone, he had been murdered.”
Azuma Bennett (left) with his good friend Eddie. Source: Provided
Career took off in America
Having worked as a personal trainer and at gyms including Bondi Boxing, Ms Milton said Azuma, who was also a martial arts expert, thought he could pursue his career in Los Angeles but it took some time to settle down. establish. He arrived in late 2019 just before COVID-19 emerged and left town during the shutdowns, staying with his family in North Carolina.
When he returned to Los Angeles, Ms Milton said many businesses were still closed.
“So he came back and he started doing free boxing lessons to help the kids,” she said.
Azuma Bennett with his mom Victoria Milton. Source: Provided
“He wanted to help black children in poor neighborhoods, or in difficult circumstances, to help build their confidence and give them a positive light for the future.
“He was basically charging people what they could afford.”
Ms Milton said he continued to do this type of work even as his career took off and he began working with celebrities including Captain America star Frank Grillo, who later described Azuma as “a nice guy” who made “everyone feel good in training”.
He wanted to help black children in poor neighborhoods, or in difficult circumstances, to help build their confidence and give them a positive light for the future.
Ms Milton said Azuma was a “beautiful, genuine, genuine human being” who grew up at their Australian Jow Ga Kung Fu Academy. His father was the late Grandmaster SiGung Randy Sullivan Bennett.
“He loved teaching kids in particular to really connect with them, and doing everything he could to help them find their courage and strength, and to bring shy and timid kids out of their shells,” he said. she declared.
Ms Milton said she was grateful for the work of the LA Homicide Bureau after Los Angeles man Gabriel Alvarado was arrested on September 22 and charged with the murder of her son. He will appear in Los Angeles Airport Court on November 21.
“There are many things (…) that I know about the investigation that I cannot say,” she said, adding that he had been “senselessly murdered”.
Ms Milton specifically thanked Detective Sergeants Bell and Austin of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who “tirelessly and diligently” followed every lead in the case.
Azuma Bennett poses with his girlfriend Sophia in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. statue in Washington, DC. Source: Provided
“It has been a deeply emotional and difficult time to mourn the loss of my only child while anxiously awaiting the arrest of his killer,” she said.
She said it gave her some comfort that justice had been served as she held a private memorial in Sydney on September 23 knowing an arrest had been made.
“Knowing that my son lost his life on the verge of an extraordinary career (…) is extremely difficult to bear,” she said.
Ms Milton acknowledged there was a long way to go, but asked what was helping her through this time, she replied: ‘just my strength and bring justice to my son… bring justice and honor to my son “.
“He really touched so many people”
Ms Milton said she was also very grateful to the many people who contributed to a GoFundMe page, which raised more than $42,000 to help defray the cost of returning Azuma’s body to Australia and caring for him. of his dog Keyshia.
She said Azuma adopted his rescue dog Keyshia about four years ago and there was no way he was leaving her behind when he went to America. “She was the joy of his life,” she said.
The money also helped his family travel to the United States for a memorial at Fortune Gym in Los Angeles. The gym is run by former Australian heavyweight boxer Justin Fortune.
“He really touched so many people, and during his memorial at Fortune Gym and after our official eulogies, a lot of people got up and just jumped in the ring and shared their experiences with Azuma, what he meant to them, the things he had done for them,” Ms Milton said.
“I think a lot of people there thought he had a huge heart and he would give them the shirt off his back, you know he would do anything for other people. And yeah, I’m very proud of him.”
Ms Milton said she would not make any further statements and asked for confidentiality and sensitivity during this time.