Friends, Strangers Chip In for Reward to Find Teen's Killer

Times Staff Writer

John Rodriguez went to a garage sale Saturday. But he had no intention of buying anything.

Instead, Rodriguez, 49, walked to a table where several women were handling money for the sale and gave them an envelope containing a personal check. He then stood back and looked at the crowd rummaging through the assortment of goods in the front yard of the modest Mission Hills home.

"It's so sad that it takes a tragedy to bring people together," he said. "I just wanted to help. I want to do my part to make sure that the person who made this take place gets caught."

The garage and bake sale was put on by the family of Michael Coco, a 17-year-old Kennedy High School student found shot to death in his car shortly after midnight May 8 near Kewen Avenue and Weidner Street in Pacoima, 20 minutes after he had left his home. The sale raised $1,200 toward a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of his assailant, who is unknown.

"We really need the money, and this was the only way I could figure out how to raise it," said Michael's mother, Stella Coco, 40, as she stood in the midst of a potpourri of clothes, posters, appliances and clocks scattered around her yard in the 10400 block of Woodman Avenue.

"Nothing we can do can bring Michael back, but by getting this killer off the street, we may save the life of another child. I can't sleep at night, knowing this person is still out there."

6,000 Flyers Distributed

Los Angeles Police Detectives Dick Knapp and Steve Fisk went to the sale and helped hand out flyers announcing a reward and request for information. Fisk said they had handed out 6,000 flyers around Mission Hills.

"This is a particularly hard case because we have no suspects and no motive," he said. "It was not gang- or drug-related. It's hard to figure why this happened."

To break the case, Detective Al Ferrand said last week, "what we really need is a witness."

Police said an unidentified young man was with Coco in his car, a 1969 blue Volkswagen Beetle, at the time of the murder, and was seen running east on Weidner Street from Kewen Avenue immediately after the shooting.

"I want to find out why he killed my child," Stella Coco said. "If he just wanted Michael's car, he could have just beat him up. He did not have to kill him."

Dozens of friends and strangers crowded into Coco's yard early Saturday. Many of her friends donated items; others gave money to the fund. Handwritten signs saying "Mike Coco Reward Fund" were taped on the front of the house.

Denise Aguilar, 16, Michael's girlfriend, spent much of the day selling sodas and hot dogs.

"This is special," she said. "A lot of people have come in here just thinking it's a garage sale. I have to tell them there's another purpose behind this."

One woman who asked not to be identified said she lives down the street from the Cocos but had not heard about the slaying until she went to the sale.

'Garage Sale Freak'

"I just decided to stop here because I'm a garage sale freak," she said. "I had no idea this had happened. It's too bad. I really hope they catch whoever did this."

Donna de la Cuesta, another neighbor who went to the sale, knew only too well how Coco felt. De la Cuesta is the daughter of Angie Hernandez, 61, who was shot to death along with her sister, Mary Gomez, 2 1/2 years ago as they were driving home from a store in Pacoima.

The sisters' killer was never found, she said.

"I know how it feels," De la Cuesta said. "I just wanted to give my support to the family."

Coco said the sale is expected to continue today and next weekend.

The mood of the crowd and response to the sale appeared to uplift Coco.

"I was so sad when I was putting things out in the yard this morning," she said. "It was really hard. But people have been so nice and supportive. I'm sure Michael would smile. I'm sure he is smiling."

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