Dale Miller was feeling down Monday night, so he and his brother Paul went for a walk and some fresh air. They had strolled about a mile from their mother's Santa Ana home when Paul bent down to tie a wayward shoelace.
Just then a brown pickup rolled by on Center Street, gunfire flashing from an open window, and Paul Miller, 23, became Santa Ana's first gang fatality of 1989.
"I heard the shots--I thought somebody threw M-80s (powerful firecrackers)," Dale Miller, 27, said Wednesday. "Paul was kneeling down to tie his shoe, and I looked down and he was holding his side. He looked at me and said, 'They shot me.' Then he fell to the ground and started gasping.
"Then he was gone."
No One Offered Assistance
Dale Miller said 15 or 20 people were hanging out along the street or on porches nearby, and others peered curiously from windows. But no one offered assistance as he tried to revive his brother with cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Finally, about 10 minutes after Paul Miller fell wounded, a woman emerged from her home near the intersection of Center and Russell streets and said she would call police.
"There were people all over the place," Dale Miller said Wednesday. "I said, 'Help me! Help me!' They all acted like they didn't want to get involved. One lady just walked by and kept on going. People were looking out their windows. I know they heard the shots."
Paul Miller had no gang ties, but it is likely that his killer did, according to Santa Ana police spokeswoman Maureen Thomas, who said that Miller was the city's first official victim of gang violence this year. Police recorded five gang-related killings in 1988, she said.
"The victim was not a gang member, just an innocent bystander," Thomas said. "We have no idea why he was shot."
Police have no suspects and only a description of a late-model Toyota or Nissan truck.
'Very Serious' Gang Problem
Santa Ana Mayor Dan Young described the city's gang problem as "very serious," and said such drive-by attacks are particularly insidious and hard to investigate.
"A drive-by is perhaps the most difficult crime to solve because unless somebody gives us a license plate number, it is almost impossible to catch the person doing it," he said.
Neighbors probably were afraid that if they came forward to help Miller, they might become targets, Young said.
"Unfortunately, one of the big problems that comes with gang activity is that they tend to intimidate the neighborhoods they operate in," he said. "Getting information is doubly hard because of the revenge gangs seek against those who come forward and talk."
Preventing drive-by shootings is even harder, said Santa Ana City Councilwoman Patricia A. McGuigan, whose ward in the southwest part of the city borders the neighborhood where the shooting occurred.
"You could put a police officer on every corner, and there would still be an incident," she said.
Thomas, the police spokeswoman, said that gang activity is highest on the east side of the city, several miles from the site of Monday's shooting. But neighbors in the mobile home park where the Miller family lives said the violence is moving westward, making them fearful after dark.
"I have bars on the windows and dead bolts on the doors," said one elderly woman who asked not to be identified. "I don't drive anywhere at night because I'm afraid."
A Question of Safety
Patty Bailey, a retiree who said she has lived in the park for 20 years, didn't hesitate when asked whether she feels safe.
"No, not anymore," she said. "You can see the gang graffiti everywhere you go. They (gangs) are everywhere."
Paul Miller, the youngest of six children, was described as a loner who spent most of his time with his girlfriend or his mother, Phyllis. He dropped out of La Quinta High School in Westminster at age 17, and had worked only sporadically since, according to his brother. Most recently, he worked as a laborer at a packaging firm.
Phyllis Miller, who has been disabled since undergoing surgery for back problems, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. The family has lived in Santa Ana for 14 years.
"My brother didn't really have any friends," Dale Miller said. "All he had was me and his girlfriend and mom. I know it was gang members who killed him, because I don't think any civilized human being would do that. It's just not right."