Fears of Gang War Grip Long Beach Neighborhood : Violence: More shootings occur after the slaying of a 12-year-old girl. Police say the situation is getting worse.
Fears of an escalating gang war gripped an embattled Long Beach neighborhood Friday after three shootouts followed the brutal execution of a 12-year-old girl this week.
Though two of the shootouts have not been linked to the aftermath of the killing of Anita Rochell Briones as she pleaded for her life, the four incidents heightened fears in the Washington Middle School neighborhood, already labeled one of the city’s most violent.
“There are drug sales here all the time. It’s scary. But with these shootings, it’s worse,” said Miguel Tamayo, who drives his truck through the neighborhood every day, selling fruits and vegetables.
“It is a rotten area and it is unthinkable what is happening here to human beings,” said Aurelia Gonzales, president of the Washington Middle School Neighborhood Assn.
“It’s going to keep getting worse,” said Norm Sorenson, a Long Beach Police Department gang detective. “You have friends, you have families, you have gang members on the victims’ side who will never, ever forget this. And who knows what pay-backs are to come.
“There will be hatred in their hearts forever.”
The neighborhood, bounded by Pacific Coast Highway, Anaheim Street and Magnolia and Pacific avenues, was ranked last year by city officials as the area with the worst problems, from high crime rates to the highest number of absentee landlords. At the time, city officials promised to pour aid into the predominantly Latino neighborhood.
The latest shooting victim was Ricardo Garcia. Police found his body early Friday in an alley behind Henderson Avenue, a graffiti-riddled street where drug peddlers brazenly hawk their goods in the daytime and mothers admonish their children to stay indoors. Garcia had no gang affiliations and police said they had no motive or suspects in the killing.
His death put the week’s toll in and around the neighborhood at three dead and two wounded.
On Friday afternoon, dozens of mourners paused by Anita’s flower-strewn coffin to say goodby to the youngster while police cars patrolled outside the funeral chapel of Forest Lawn-Sunnyside Cemetery in Long Beach.
One mourner shouted: “Why her? Why her?” Three young women wore white T-shirts with the words, “In Loving Memory of Anita” on the back. A sorrowful Spanish song played in the background.
The girl’s murder stunned city officials, residents, police officers and even gang members.
“To hit a girl, this is all new, that our homeboys would kill a girl,” said David Guerrero, brother of one of the four suspects arrested in Anita’s murder, in denying their guilt. “We don’t hit girls.”
Police said Anita’s death may have marked a brutal turning point. Girls are sometimes victims of shootings but rarely the intended targets in Long Beach, where police estimate that there are more than 10,000 gang members in the city of nearly 430,000.
“I’ve been a gang detective since 1980,” Sorenson said. “I can’t recall anybody gunning down a girl gang member on purpose. . . . I can see it if it was a drive-by and an unarmed girl was shot by mistake. But to get out (of the car) and run her down. She was running. . . . It was coldhearted.”
Anita was gunned down about 3:45 a.m. in the 300 block of West 15th Street, the same spot where a young man had been wounded a few days earlier, Sorenson said. Police said Anita appeared to have gang affiliations and was known in the neighborhood as “Little Goofy.”
It was unclear what she was doing outside so late. Her mother, Kandie Rosales, has said that she was waiting for her sister to give her a ride after a party. Anita’s stepfather, Arturo Rosales, said that the youngster lived with relatives. A social service agency placed her in another home after problems about two years ago, Rosales said. He would not elaborate.
Two days after her death, police said, gang members who knew Anita went to the west side of town, where they killed Javier Vigil, 18, and wounded Jimmy Montoya, 18.
Garcia’s murder and the shooting of a 24-year-old, Vicenta Salinas, followed in the neighborhood where Anita was shot. Police have not linked those two to the gang warfare that killed Anita and Vigil.
Some Washington Middle School neighborhood residents say officials have yet to deliver on their promises of help for the area. The neighborhood remains a conglomeration of rundown apartment buildings, with no parks other than a small greenbelt where homeless people often sleep.
“They had one (police) sweep, one (community) fair and one cleanup. But we need more police,” Gonzales said.
Rosa Martinez, 36, will not allow her three children outside the small apartment she shares with her brothers and their families. “I don’t like it because they have these ladies of the night walking here every day,” Martinez said in Spanish.
Arcelia Lizarraga, who lives next to the home where Anita was killed, said she too keeps her youngsters inside. Her son, Jose Perez, 18, has bullet wounds in his back and shoulder from a shooting a few weeks ago outside his mother’s home.
“Here, even in the daytime, you can’t go out,” Lizarraga said.
City and police officials said they are doing their best.
“We’re about maxed out,” said Police Lt. Stephen McAndrew. “We have our gang task force and that’s all they’re working. It’s tough to step up patrol. We just don’t have any more people to step up personnel.”
Councilman Clarence Smith, who represents the area, said: “It’s better because we’ve cleaned it up some, but that’s still the worst neighborhood in Long Beach.
Smith said the city has ordered playground equipment for the neighborhood’s greenbelt and a second cleanup effort is scheduled for today.
“It’s crazy, it’s crazy,” Smith added. “You think you’re in another world. I think about my generation and what’s going on today and it’s as if you’re from another planet.”
Sorenson, the gang detective, called the recent shootings “a bumper crop of killings.”
“Long Beach is going the way of all other large cities,” Sorenson said. “Some of these kids don’t give a damn about anything.”
Times staff writer Bettina Boxall contributed to this report.
Here is a look at the spate of violence that has occurred over the last week in and around the Washington Middle School neighborhood of Long Beach. 1. Aug. 4: Anita Briones, 12, killed. 2. Aug. 6: Javier Vigil, 18, killed and Jimmy Montoya, 18, wounded. 3. Aug. 7: Vicenta Salinas, 24, wounded* 4. Aug. 9: Ricardo Garcia, 21, killed.* * Police have not linked these shootings to the ongoing gang battle.