Shooting of pregnant woman stirs fears in Pico-Union

Pico-Union park where pregnant shooting victim was found has become safer, but concerns remain, neighbors say

At Toberman Park Monday morning, boys and girls did soccer drills and ran around the playground. A short distance away, some mothers kept an eye on their children as they worked out on the gym equipment.

It was a serene scene in Pico-Union, one of Los Angeles' most densely populated and sometimes gang-afflicted neighborhoods. But there was a lingering fear — among the more knowing adults at least — over the shooting of an 18-year-old pregnant woman in the park the night before.

The young woman, who was six months pregnant, was found at the park in the 1700 block of Toberman Street south of Venice Boulevard and north of the 10 Freeway, said Sgt. Michael Williams of the LAPD's Rampart Division.

The woman was listed in critical but stable condition, LAPD Officer Rosario Herrera said. It was not immediately clear whether the woman was directly targeted, Herrera said.

In the weeks leading up to Sunday's shooting, the area around the park has seen rival gangs crossing out one another's graffiti — a traditional indicator that trouble is brewing, said Officer Patricia Braendle, who is based in the Rampart Division.

Despite the presence of gangs in the neighborhood, which is claimed by the Burlington Locos gang, the area has experienced relatively low crime in the last few years, Braendle added. The Times' crime reporting database shows the neighborhood has a higher-than-average violent crime rate.

In that period of calm, residents have felt safer at Toberman Park, which has become even more of a meeting point for the community, said Sarah Yetter, who lives three blocks from the park. Yetter brings her 4-year-old son to play and attends Zumba classes once a week at the Toberman Recreation Center.

About two years ago, Yetter said, the park was remodeled, which she believes helped create a safer environment.

"There was a lot more men hanging around the park. It seemed more like a gang turf," said Yetter, a mother of four. "The remodel of the park seems to have made it more family friendly to everyone."

But she said the sound of gunfire and police activity are not unusual in the neighborhood.

"In that sense it's not completely shocking, I guess," Yetter said about Sunday night's shooting. "But you never want to hear about victims like that."

Maria Jay, 60, who has lived in the neighborhood for about 30 years, said that the area is fairly calm, but that she believes the park has been a problem. Jay said people often come to the park to drink and then start to fight.

"It's sad because this is a community park," Jay said. "There's a lot of families and kids there enjoying the park services."

Jay, who was out walking her dog Monday morning, said she won't go out at night to walk in the neighborhood because she thinks it's unsafe.

But Rosa Martinez, 28, said she has not seen any serious issues in the park or in the community in the last few years. Martinez has lived in a house near the park for three years. She said that when she arrived home at 10:30 p.m. Sunday, she didn't hear any gunfire coming from the park or see any police. It was only Monday morning that she learned from her sister what had happened.

"It's calm here. Nothing like this has happened here until now," Martinez said. "It takes me by surprise."

Maria de Lourdes Baez, 45, heard the gunshots near her home across from the park, but she said she was too frightened to try to see where they came from. Then she heard the sound of an ambulance.

Baez said she has heard gunfire up to three times a month in the tough neighborhood she has called home for 12 years.

The park is safer than it was in past years she said, when many more gang members hung out there. But she added that people still smoke, drink and fight in the park.

"I don't feel safe here," Baez said. "I almost never go out because of the danger."

Baez said she especially worries about her two children, 10 and 14 years old, and doesn't go out unless she has to.

"I don't take them out because you never know when the gunshots are going to start," she said as she walked to a nearby clinic with her daughter Monday. "The truth is, it's really dangerous here."

Times staff writers Joseph Serna and Nicole Charky contributed to this report.

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