Lea McBean leafs through a stack of photographs more than a hundred deep. The vast majority of them show her husband, Ira, 28, and a child sleeping somewhere nearby: Ira with their son Elijah, 6, passed out on the floor beside the bed; Ira with their second son, Nathatius, 2, asleep on Ira's big belly.
She points to yet another photo. "This was our first Christmas here." She corrects herself. "I say 'first Christmas.' It was our only Christmas."
McBean smiles while tears leak unheeded down her face. On a chain around her neck is Ira's wedding ring. She's worn it ever since a man Ira had never met shot and killed him Aug. 27.
McBean herself hardly knew the gunman. Aris Kareem Smith, also called Polo, dated a woman at Crescent Park Corp., the packaging company where all three worked the assembly line. Smith's girlfriend had been confrontational all week long, getting into it with several other employees. On Aug. 27 she kept knocking McBean's product off the line. McBean told a supervisor, "She has animosity for me and I don't know why, but just move me. I'm too old. You know, this is not high school." Supervisors fired Smith's girlfriend later that day.
She and Smith were waiting outside for McBean after her shift ended and threatened her. Supervisors who overheard the threats had McBean call her husband to come meet her at the bus stop. McBean then watched helplessly as Smith and the woman followed her bus from West Chester to downtown Cincinnati and then to Price Hill. None of the other passengers had a cell phone, and the bus driver ignored McBean's pleas to call the police.
"(The driver) was telling jokes, (like) he needed a gun so he could gun the engine faster up the hill because it's moving too slow," she says.
The driver then drove a few yards beyond the bus stop at Fairbanks and Warsaw avenues, where Ira McBean waited. Smith and the woman rushed up on Lea McBean. When Ira came at Smith, Smith turned around and shot him once. Then the attackers fled.
"I never got to see Ira until he was shot and dying on the street," McBean says, sobbing now. "I said, 'Baby, get up,' and he lifted his head. He shouldn't even have been out there. I wish I'd never called."
She returned home to the dinner of chicken and rice and corn Ira had made her. The foot soaker was ready for her, too.
Smith's girlfriend later made a full confession to police, who charged her only with assault, McBean says unhappily. She says Cincinnati Police officers, notably Det. Mike Drexelius, have been kind and responsive. Smith, who has been charged with murder, is still at large; police consider him armed and dangerous.
The McBeans had only been in Cincinnati since December, though Lea grew up here. They'd moved from Atlanta, where they met, to get Lea's 9-year-old daughter from the woman whose custody she's challenging.
"I don't care what it takes," McBean says her husband told her, though he'd never met the girl. "I got your back, and we'll do this together."
That was Ira through and through, McBean says.
"When we first got together, people would call him at, like, 2 in the morning: 'Can you help change a tire?' " she says. "And I'd get so mad at my baby, because I was like, 'They didn't call on your birthday and say happy birthday.' And he'd go, 'Who cares, Lea?' "
She lights a menthol cigarette.
"In years I haven't bought a pack of cigarettes, but now I smoke," she says. "There's no understanding to this."
Lea McBean's grandmother has set up a memorial fund called the McBean Children's Fund; donations are accepted at any Fifth-Third Bank.
All The News That Fits: Leads, entrails and tales we couldn't get to.