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$100,000 reward offered in Ramona Gardens firebomb attacks

Authorities offer a $100,000 reward for information in Ramona Gardens firebombing incident
Surveillance video shows suspects throwing Molotov cocktails in the Ramona Gardens firebombing incident.

Federal and local officials Wednesday announced a $100,000 reward for information in the May 12 firebomb attack of four apartments at the Ramona Gardens housing projects in Boyle Heights, saying they need the public's help in identifying the suspects.

The reward, combined with the release of new video surveillance footage showing the attack, comes after authorities say they have been unable to identify the suspects responsible for throwing the Molotov cocktails.

While no one was injured in the firebombing, three of the four apartments targeted just after midnight were occupied by black families, recalling darker times from more than 20 years ago when similar attacks prompted most African Americans to flee the housing project.

Authorities have declined to say whether the latest attack was racially motivated, but the case remains under investigation. The fourth apartment attacked in the firebombing was occupied by a Latino family.

“It would be inappropriate to speculate what was behind the motive of the attack,” said Tim Delaney, special agent in charge of the FBI's criminal division in Los Angeles. “Certainly the possibility that this attack was racially motivated is among the working theories of the investigators.”

The video footage released Wednesday shows eight suspects, dressed in dark-hooded sweatshirts, walking on a pedestrian bridge east of the Soto Street offramp over the 10 Freeway toward the rear of housing project.

The suspects were seen just after midnight walking through the complex and then several of them appear to light Molotov cocktails on fire. Flames appear to consume the outside of the complex. Moments later, the suspects were seen running through the housing project and toward the pedestrian bridge.

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council  unanimously approved a $75,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of at least one of the suspects. The rest of the money is coming from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"We are at the point right now where we need the public's help," said Los Angeles police Deputy Chief Kirk J. Albanese.

The firebombing has prompted the formation of a dedicated task force, whose members include the FBI, the ATF and the Los Angeles police and fire departments.

“This is a crime that strikes right at the heart of public safety,” Albanese said. “People in their homes that are all of a sudden firebombed -- it is inexcusable.”

Carlos Canino, special agent in charge of the ATF's Los Angeles Bureau, said arson and civil rights investigators have been assigned to the case.

Although the video shows only eight suspects, authorities say there may be more.

At least four Molotov cocktails -- made with glass bottles, rags and flammable liquid that ignites when the bottle breaks -- were thrown at the apartment. The cocktails entered the windows of at least two apartments, causing minor to moderate damage, police said.

The residents were able to return to their homes the same day.

Soon after the attacks, some black families requested emergency transfer orders for other housing projects while others just left, according to police.

Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar described the crime as “despicable,” made more so if it ends up being a hate crime.

The city of Los Angeles, he said, “prides itself with its diversity.”

“Our diversity is what makes Los Angeles one of the most interesting cities in the world, so this will not be tolerated and this will not be accepted,” he said.

The housing project had hosted barbecues and other events to demonstrate the unity of the Latino and black residents, Huizar said.

There were 23 black families living in Ramona Gardens, which is predominantly Latino. That number had increased since last year, when at one point 16 black families lived in the housing project. The complex has about 1,791 residents.

Anyone with details about the firebombing was urged to call (213) 484-6700 or email the Ramona Gardens Task Force at rgtf@lapd.lacity.org.

veronica.rocha@latimes.com

hector.becerra@latimes.com

For breaking news in Los Angeles and California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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