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A Promise to a Son : Family Persists in Hunt for Killers Despite City’s Ban on Reward Poster

TIMES STAFF WRITER

On Norwalk Boulevard, in front of Launderland, Teresa Wheel taped a poster to a telephone pole. It bore a photo of her smiling son and offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to his slayers’ arrests.

The shots that killed 19-year-old Kevin Wheel, as he drove down the same street in early May, also shattered the lives of his parents. But they are fighting back.

“They say that grief takes a long time, but what you do with that time matters,” Teresa Wheel said.

As the proliferation of the various-colored reward posters in cities near Hawaiian Gardens attests, she and her husband, Stan Wheel, have been spending much of their time trying to help apprehend the suspects in the shooting.

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“I promised Kevin before he was buried that we would do everything we could to catch these guys,” the victim’s mother said. “And we’ll keep that promise for as long as it takes.”

Sgt. Jacque Franco of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said the posters have generated leads in the investigation, which is focusing on four males ages 18 to 20. Franco believes that the suspects belong to an Artesia gang that feuds with a gang in Hawaiian Gardens.

“A lot of people don’t want to get involved,” Franco said. “The Wheels are the exception.”

Kevin Wheel, who was not a gang member, appears to have been a random victim, Franco said. He had been returning from Buena Park to his Hawaiian Gardens apartment when, about 11:30 p.m. May 3, a white compact car pulled alongside his Honda Civic on Norwalk Boulevard near 221st Street, and the occupants began shooting.

Two bullets fired from a 9-millimeter automatic handgun struck Wheel in the head, and three entered his back, authorities said. He died three hours later at Memorial Medical Center in Long Beach.

“It was a senseless killing,” said Stan Wheel. “Gang violence is happening all the time, and it doesn’t seem like anybody is trying to do anything about it. We want to at least get these four off the streets.”

“Lately,” Teresa Wheel added, "(gang members) have been killing a lot more than each other. They’re killing innocent people . . . our children.”

Before their son’s funeral, the Wheels, who live in Lakewood, decided to offer a reward. Half of the $10,000 came from their savings, and the other half was donated by relatives and friends.

On Memorial Day weekend, the Wheels and their relatives and friends walked miles, stapling 1,200 posters on telephone, power and light poles in Hawaiian Gardens, Artesia, Lakewood and Cerritos.

The Wheels’ campaign has suffered a setback in the city where the shooting occurred. They have put posters up three times on poles in Hawaiian Gardens, and each time, because of an ordinance, they have been quickly removed.

“It just seems so coldhearted,” said Teresa Wheel. “It’s not like we’re advertising something. We’re just trying to find out who killed our son. I think they could break an ordinance for a week. We offered to put the posters up and take them down ourselves.”

Hawaiian Gardens strictly enforces a rule that bans signs on public right of ways, City Manager Nelson Oliva said. But Oliva said he accepted a stack of posters from Teresa Wheel and had them placed in the City Hall lobby and recreation centers.

“I sympathize with their cause,” he said, “but I have to draw the line somewhere. It was hard for me to say no, because I understand the kid was killed.”

After the first time the posters were taken down in Hawaiian Gardens, Oliva told Stan Wheel that posting signs on GTE and Southern California Edison Co. poles is prohibited because staples and tacks pose a hazard for linemen. The Wheels then used tape to put up an additional 1,000 posters on metal and concrete poles over the same area.

It upsets the Wheels when they see, affixed to the nail-ridden telephone and power poles of Hawaiian Gardens, garage-sale, lost-dog and piano-lesson signs instead of their posters.

But those are taken down Friday afternoons and Monday mornings, Oliva said.

Most of the reward posters in Lakewood, Artesia and Cerritos remain up. None of those cities have such strict laws, and the poles are generally policed by the utility companies, city officials said.

Evenings and weekends are the hardest for the Wheels, when they sit with the memories of their son. His picture, the same one used for the reward poster, is on a shelf near their TV.

“We never knew anything could hurt so bad,” Teresa said. “It’s so hard to believe we’ll never see him again.”

Kevin, a former Artesia High School student, moved out of his parents’ home about four months ago. He had been working at a parking lot maintenance firm, where his father is general manager, and especially enjoyed putting down parking lot stripes.

“Kevin loved life,” his mother said, “and I’m going to do anything I can to find out who cut it so short. That’s what keeps me going. Trying to catch his killers keeps us busy, and we need to feel like we’re doing something. On days I don’t have something to do, I sit around and cry.”

The Wheels hope that more parents will do what they are doing.

“They have to,” Teresa said. “We have to take control of our neighborhoods, it’s just getting out of hand.”

The couple has decided not to put up any more posters on poles.

“People in Hawaiian Gardens have told us they will put them in the windows of their homes,” Teresa said. “And I’m thinking about hiring a flyer delivery service. I’m not going to give up,” she added.

On her left wrist was her son’s bracelet.

“We all have a part of him,” she said the other night.

Stan carries Kevin’s wallet. Dionne Wheel, 23, wears her brother’s ring, and Teresa’s father, Bud Alsup, has his grandson’s baseball glove.


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