A high school football star described as "a Houdini on the football field" was shot dead on Sunday in random gang violence and his mother was returning from her second tour of duty in Iraq.

Jamiel Andre Shaw, 17, was shot multiple times on a sidewalk a few yards from his home after he didn't respond when two men pulled up in a car and asked him, "Where you from?" — code for which gang did he belong to, police said. He was not a gang member.

Authorities are calling the shooting a random, unprovoked gang attack.

Shaw, a standout running back at Los Angeles High School and the Southern League's most valuable player last season, was shot about 8:40 p.m. Sunday in the Crenshaw area. He died later at a local hospital.

Known to his friends as "Jazz," Shaw was heading places, said his father, Jamiel Shaw Sr.

"He was going to make something out of himself," Jamiel Sr. told MyFOXLA.com. "All he had to do was get out of high school."

His mother, Army Sgt. Anita Shaw, was on her way back from Iraq, where she has been serving her second tour of duty, an Army spokesman said via e-mail on Tuesday. She had previously served in Iraq from 2004 to 2005, and had been on active duty in Iraq since August of last year, the spokesman said.

Jamiel Shaw Sr. said he called Jamiel on Sunday night, telling him to hurry home from the mall. A few moments after hanging up, Jamiel Sr. said, he heard the shots outside.

"They killed him while his mother is in Iraq fighting, dodging bullets, and she gets a phone call to say her son is on the streets of L.A., dead. For what?" Jamiel Sr. said.

Shaw's best friend, Marc Anthony Asher, witnessed the attack, telling MyFOXLA.com the men shot him in the head.

"He wasn't a gangbanger; he wasn't no thug," Asher said. "He was a regular kid."

Jamiel Sr. said his son's ultimate goal was to be a sports agent.

"I would tell him, 'I'm going to get you to 18, and if you do what you're supposed to do, you'll get to college'" the father recalled. "He was almost there."

Hardy Williams, football coach at Los Angeles High, said Jamiel was "a very special kid. Not only was he an outstanding athlete, he was a good person."

And, Williams said, he was "a Houdini on the football field."

Jamiel was an all-city first-team selection last season after he rushed for 1,052 yards, averaging more than 14 yards per carry, and scored 10 touchdowns. He also ran track.

In the past week, Williams said, Stanford and Rutgers universities contacted him about Jamiel. "He was elated," Williams recalled.

Police said they are seeking the public's help in identifying the suspects, whom officials described only as two Latino men in a white compact sedan. Investigators believe the shooting was not racially motivated. Jamiel was black.

"Unfortunately, it's not uncommon in L.A. that we have some gang members approaching victims at random just to see if they are (gang members) or not," said police Det. Frank Carrillo. "But to shoot them anyway, that's just disgusting."

Jamiel Sr. implored the public for help.

"This is not Iraq; this is L.A.," he told MyFOXLA.com. "You should be able to walk down the damn street — you should be able to walk the street without getting killed. Somebody's seen what happened: Somebody knows. Please help us."

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.