MEMPHIS, Tenn. — He was an amateur photographer who loved to skateboard and watch the 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 hearty «Hello, parents!»

Those words will no longer be heard 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, that’s fine, but it was very close,» his mother, RowVaughn Wells, said at a news conference Monday.

RowVaughn Wells, mother of Tire Nichols, cries at a news conference in Memphis on Monday. Tire’s stepfather, Rodney Wells, stands behind her. Gerald Herbert/AP

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 job working the night shift for FedEx.

When he wasn’t working or taking photos, he was skateboarding, an activity he started when he was 6 years old, Wells said.

«That was his passion,» he said at the news conference, three days before a candlelight vigil was held in his honor at a local skate park.

Photographing sunsets at Shelby Farms Park, a large green space in Memphis, was another passion, he said. It was one of her many routines, like making a Starbucks every morning and doing the week’s laundry on Sundays.

«Does that sound like someone the police are trying to say did 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 she left, she had asked Wells how she was preparing the chicken they were having for dinner.

«I said I was going to put it with sesame seeds,» he said. «He loved it.»

She said that her son loved her deeply and even had her name tattooed on his arm.

«Most kids don’t put their mom’s name, but he does,» Wells said.

Wells said he will miss the cheery greeting that would sound when Nichols came home from work, the skatepark or Shelby Farms.

“I only think about the fact that I will never see my son again. I will never see that smile again. You will never see his child grow up,” Wells told NBC News on Friday. «I’m waiting for my son to walk through the door and he isn’t.»

Angelina Paxton, a friend in Sacramento who knew Nichols when they were teenagers, said he always had words of encouragement for his loved ones.

Nichols’ death «just made me lose faith in life and humanity,» he said. “Bad things like this don’t happen to good people in my head. It has made me fear the world now.”

Paxton, 28, said she and Nichols couldn’t go anywhere without him meeting at least one person they passed, and he would stop to chat.

They once made a pit stop at a grocery store on their way to spend the day at a river. People in three different aisles knew him and so did the cashier, he said.

“Wherever I took him, he just had to talk to everyone,” Paxton said.

Nichols’ sister, Keyana Dixon, 41, of Sacramento, said her brother dreamed of one day making a living in photography and launching a graphic design company.

Nichols tire.
Nichols tire.Courtesy Keyana Dixon

That desire was strengthened when he was planning his wedding. Hearing that a photographer wanted to charge him $3,000, Nichols gave her a “that’s too much money” look and offered to take the photos of her himself.

“He captured my wedding day,” Dixon said. «I wanted to see others happy.»

After her death, Dixon recalled the last text message he sent her, on December 30: “Sis, I love you so much, you have a lot of value in my life. I just want you to know this.»

One of Nichols’ FedEx co-workers, Rico Howard, said he took pride in his work.

“He was the self-proclaimed cashier manager, packing and shipping customer orders,” Howard said. «He would make sure the right product went into the right box.»

He said he liked how Nichols never tried to fit in. While many in Memphis dressed to impress, Nichols dressed in baggy clothes, not caring what others thought.

“He was the first skater I saw in Memphis,” Howard said.

nichols died on January 10, three days after the meeting with the police which took him to the hospital. He had been arrested for alleged reckless driving, police officials said.

A confrontation ensued and officers gave chase as Nichols fled on foot, the Memphis Police Department said. As he tried to stop him, there was another confrontation and Nichols complained of having difficulty breathing, he said.

A photo provided by his stepfather showed Nichols hospitalized 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 indicted by a Tennessee grand jury on murder and other charges.

Video of the encounter was released Friday night. David Rausch, director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, said Thursday that what happened on camera was horrifying.

“I have been a police officer for over 30 years, I have dedicated my life to this profession and I am aggrieved,” he said. “Frankly, I’m shocked. I’m disgusted by what I saw.»

Howard said the way Nichols died has weighed heavily on him, and he hoped the events of January 7 would lead to a change.

“The police treated him anyway, and it hurt, it hurt a lot,” he said. «But he could be the face to make things better.»