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Wrong Clothes Cost Young Man His Life : Street violence: The victim of an ambush shooting in Van Nuys was wearing gang-style attire but was not a gang member, police say.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A “hard-working young man” died in a barrage of gunfire outside his Van Nuys apartment, apparently killed by a gunman who mistook him for a gang member because of his clothes, Los Angeles police said Friday.

Pedro Delatorre Munoz, 20, a busboy at a Mission Hills restaurant, was shot about midnight Thursday in the 14200 block of Vanowen Street as he walked home from a store where he had gone to get a snack after work.

The victim was wearing dark pants, a sleeveless T-shirt and a black Los Angeles Kings hat--an outfit favored by gang members--when five men jumped from behind bushes in front of his apartment building and opened fire with at least one gun, police said.

“We are really torn up by this,” said Robert Amaya, manager of the restaurant where Delatorre worked. “He was a model employee. There is no one here who has a bad word to say about Pedro.”

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No arrests were made. Police said the slaying may have been related to a drive-by shooting that took place four hours earlier one block away. In that incident, two men, 19 and 22, were slightly wounded when shots were fired and a gang name was shouted from a passing car.

But Delatorre was not a gang member and had no part in the earlier shooting, police said. He was cleaning tables at Millie’s Country Kitchen when the first shooting occurred, Amaya said.

“Because of what he was wearing, he may have been mistaken for a gang member,” Detective James Vojtecky said. “That’s what we are speculating, because there appears to be no motive. He was not known to us as a gang member. Everyone we talk to says he was a hard-working young man.”

Delatorre shared an apartment with his older brother and a cousin in the small apartment building. He worked as a busboy five nights a week and was considered an excellent employee, Amaya said. Friends said he was saving money for a long-awaited trip to Mexico to visit his mother and other relatives, whom he had not seen in two years.

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Amaya and others who knew Delatorre said the young man often presented a tough image but actually was soft-spoken and friendly.

“He wasn’t a tough guy,” Amaya said. “Once you talked to him you wouldn’t think that. At the end of the night shift, he would walk the female managers to their cars. If one said she was going to the gas station he would go with her and pump the gas. That was the type of kid he was.”

Amaya said Delatorre, who worked at the restaurant for three years, was working on Thursday until 10 p.m. Two hours later he was dead.

According to police, Delatorre was hit by bullets at the front gate of his apartment complex, but managed to run through the courtyard to the door of his apartment, collapsing before he could open it.

“He was a good kid,” Delatorre’s apartment manager said Friday, contemplating a bullet-punctured window. “He was friendly and I never had any problems with him. These gangs . . . nobody is safe.”

One of Delatorre’s friends went to his apartment after hearing of the shooting, but the victim’s brother and cousin were gone. The young man, who like the apartment manager declined to give his name, was confused by the tragic news.

“I came when I heard,” he said. “I don’t believe this. Why shoot Pedro?”


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