Police say a dearth of witnesses is hampering their search for the gunmen who fled after a barroom shooting rampage last weekend that left four men dead, the largest homicide case in the city's history.
"Apparently, everyone got the heck out of there when they started shooting," said homicide Detective Russell Enyeart. "We haven't even been able to locate the bartender."
Police say the Mermaid Tavern at 597 S. La Brea Ave. is frequented by a Latino clientele, many of whom are illegal aliens.
"I think this is a case where the witnesses are afraid to step forward for fear of being deported," said Sgt. Robert Snowden. "We're trying to let people know that witnesses will not be incarcerated because of their citizenship status. We are not interested in deporting anyone. Our primary interest is in solving this homicide.
"So far it appears to be an isolated incident stemming from a dispute that arose at the scene of the shooting. It doesn't look like this was a case where someone entered the bar and just started shooting," Snowden said.
Police said it is possible that some of the victims may have been killed by others who later were fatally shot in the dispute. But only three small-caliber guns were found at the scene, and some of the wounds were caused by larger-caliber weapons, police said.
Employees at a Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop two doors south of the bar told police that the shooting started about 10:15 p.m. Saturday. Minutes later, they saw several men run into the parking lot that the ice cream parlor shares with the Mermaid and three other businesses.
Cars Race Away
More shots were fired in the parking lot before several cars--one carrying a shooting victim dragged out of the bar by friends--raced away, witnesses told police.
When police arrived, they found Oscar Lopez, 41, dead in the parking lot. Inside the bar, police discovered the bodies of Nicholas Nunez, 33, and Juan Sanchez, 36.
Another victim, Leonardo Sanchez, 36, was taken to Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital, where he was listed in critical but stable condition and is paralyzed from the chest down, hospital officials said. He has not been able to answer questions, Snowden said.
Mario Luis Luna, 23, who police said was the one taken away by friends, died later at Brotman Medical Center.
In the parking lot after the shooting, police found Lopez's 5-year-old son and a nephew whose age could not be determined. Neither was hurt, although the son had been in the bar when the shooting occurred, police said. He could not tell police anything about the argument, they said. The nephew was sleeping in a car when police arrived. The children were placed in foster homes.
"It's frustrating because we know there were people in the bar who saw what happened. We just have to persuade them to come to us," said Snowden.
He said that the city usually puts two detectives on homicide cases but has assigned four to this one.
Police said they would contact Latino newspapers this week in an effort to reach the Latino community. They asked anyone with information to call the Inglewood Police Department's 24-hour line at 412-5206.
The Mermaid Tavern was the scene of a homicide in 1984 and a few brawls since then in which gunshots were fired, Enyeart said. The tavern's owners, Rosario and Decideria Melero, were not available for comment.