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Girl Scout Cleans Mural but Leaves Graffiti Memorial as Peace Offering

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It’s a long shot, but Debbi Hammarlund and her friends think it just might work.

When they learned that their mural on a wall near a North Hollywood elementary school had been covered with gang graffiti, the group took the unusual step of leaving part of the graffiti--a memorial to a youth slain in a gang-style shooting--in place as a way of offering a truce between artists and vandals.

“Maybe they’ll respect the effort,” Hammarlund said.

Near the space shuttle and planets that were part of Hammarlund’s mural, graffiti vandals inserted a requiem for a 14-year-old boy that reads in part “RIP Alejandro Penalos,” which Hammarlund, 18, and her friends decided not to cover over.

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“Hopefully they’ll leave the rest of the mural alone” now, Police Officer Nancy Reeves said of the gang members.

Reeves and Officer Larry Heck were on hand Wednesday as Hammarlund and her friends, many of whom are members of a Granada Hills Girl Scout troop, cleaned up the graffiti and decided to try to work with gang members.

“I think it’s a good idea,” Reeves said, watching as the group painted the wall.

Alejandro Penaloza was gunned down in May as he stood talking with friends in front of Millikan Junior High School. A single gunshot, fired from a passing truck, ripped through his chest.

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Months later his friends apparently are still grieving over his death.

“It seemed the anger was so concentrated, they came back and they didn’t care what was on the wall,” said Mark Peterson, 21, a friend of Hammarlund’s who designed the mural and volunteered to paint it.

As part of a Girl Scout project, Hammarlund began working Monday on the wall that faces the playground of Coldwater Canyon Elementary School in North Hollywood, an effort Principal Jill Fager and others at the school welcomed.

“This wall is in plain view of our entire playground,” Fager said. “We’re just tired of looking at the gang logos on it.”

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In the past, teachers and students from Coldwater have painted over graffiti on the wall, but in a few days the graffiti was renewed.

All hope the tactic of mutual respect will work.

“I guess you call it fighting fire with fire,” Peterson said, as he dabbed the wall with a paint-filled sponge.

Peterson and the other volunteers, all friends of Hammarlund, cleaned the graffiti Wednesday from a large portion of the mural with paint thinner.

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Artist Jeff Kawamoto designed artwork to go along with the graffiti memorial: A tombstone bearing the letters RIP, Penaloza’s birth and death dates and his nickname “Payaso"--clown--in writing that has become a trademark of gang members.

Still, nobody knows if gang members will respect the mural now that their presence on the wall is assured. So Hammarlund and the others will cover the mural with an anti-graffiti coating that will make it easier to clean off graffiti.

Neighbor Harry Halperin has agreed to keep an eye on the wall and to clean it should vandals strike again.

In the meantime, the mural has already won the approval of its most critical audience.

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As Hammarlund painted, a crowd of second-graders peeped through the school’s wire fence to watch.

“I like it,” Jazmin Rodriguez proclaimed.


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