Drive-By Shooting of Prep Athlete Evokes the Usual Question: Why?

Times Staff Writer

The memories of the day before--of Juan Enriquez's joy at being named to a football all-star team--were too vivid Wednesday on the subdued campus of John Glenn High School in Norwalk.

Students found it hard to comprehend that the star athlete and honor roll student, known to friends as Chaka, was dead, victim of a drive-by shooting as he walked home during lunch period Tuesday.

Freshman Dominek Simpson sat in a coach's office and looked at a wrestling team photo of Enriquez, who was captain of the football and wrestling teams.

"He was the best friend to everyone," Simpson said. "We just talked to each other yesterday in fourth period."

It was about an hour after that conversation that Enriquez, 18, was shot as he and fellow athlete, William Sevilla, 18, walked down the 16000 block of Horst Avenue, only a block from Enriquez's home in south Norwalk.

Two men, believed to be Latinos between 18 and 19, drove by the students in a black sedan, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department homicide investigators. The passenger pointed a revolver out the car window, and Enriquez and Sevilla dropped to the sidewalk.

One shot was fired into Enriquez's chest. He was pronounced dead at Pioneer Hospital in Artesia at 1:45 p.m.

Authorities said they believe that the people in the car were gang members, but neither Enriquez nor Sevilla belonged to gangs.

The shooting occurred near the Artesia border in an area where two rival gangs, Varrio and Chivas, have fought over the past year. It was the first gang-related death this year in Norwalk, sheriff's deputies said.

Enriquez had won the CIF Southern Division 2-A heavyweight wrestling championship in March. He had hoped to continue wrestling in college and study law enforcement.

All-Suburban Lineman

He was also an All-Suburban League football lineman and had been told just before he was shot Tuesday that he had been chosen to play in this summer's 605 All-Star football game, which matches teams on opposite sides of the San Gabriel River Freeway.

Football coach Willie Norman recalled the moment when Enriquez learned he was picked for the team. "I had just handed him his letter, which said he had made the team. He was ecstatic."

"Why did they do that to him?" Simpson asked. "Who would hate a guy like that? If you hated him, you had to be crazy. I don't know why they'd do that to him, he never caused trouble. It's sick, man."

Wrestling coach Ralph Valle looked at the team wrestling picture, dominated by the broad-shouldered, 240-pound Enriquez.

"He was tough," said Valle, who was organizing a memorial service at the school. "He was always striving to do better. He motivated others. He was not a gang-banger. He was a student athlete, a son, a brother, a friend."

The service, expected to be attended by hundreds of the 2,000-member school's student body, was to be held on the school grounds at 11 a.m. today.

Inside the stucco Enriquez home Wednesday, relatives and neighbors filled two couches in a small living room, adorned with Enriquez's plaques, awards and medals.

His mother, Theresa Enriquez, said in Spanish, "He never had any problems with anyone."

Rosa Ramos, a cousin of the victim, said Enriquez's mother "hopes no other mother has to suffer what she's been through."

Enriquez's brother, Adrian, 6, cried and held his mother's hand. Ramos said Enriquez would give Adrian a big hug each morning before leaving for school.

Enriquez is survived by three other brothers--Jose, 21, Alberto, 16, and Monico, 12--and a sister, Maria, 23.

Ramos remembered the day when her cousin came home a wrestling champion. "He went crazy and spray-painted his wall," she said.

The Word 'Champ'

In Enriquez's windowless room, he had painted above his bed a huge red numeral one, adding next to it his name and the word "champ."

Enriquez and his girlfriend of three years--Caprice Fimbres, a John Glenn cheerleader--had been looking forward to Saturday night's prom.

He was coming home Tuesday, Ramos said, to replace a flat tire on his car.

On the sidewalk outside the Enriquez home, relatives and friends gathered quietly to offer sympathy. A neighbor brought food, hugged Theresa Enriquez and said to her, "He was a good boy. You know that."

Theresa Enriquez stood in the driveway with Ramos and leaned against a blue 1954 Chevrolet, waiting for her late son's girlfriend to arrive.

She was bringing his letterman's jacket.

Times staff writer Lee Harris contributed to this story.

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