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Youth Slain by Bicycle-Riding Gunmen

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Only blocks from City Hall in an alley described by local residents as a virtual shooting gallery, a 16-year-old boy was slain late Friday in an apparent gang confrontation when two gunmen riding bicycles opened fire on a large gathering of youths.

The victim, whose identity was being withheld by authorities but whom area residents knew by the nickname “Weasel,” was fatally wounded during the 11:30 p.m. incident in the crowded alley between Kroeger and Melrose streets.

“I went over to him (the victim) and he was just lying there, making like a humming sound,” said one witness who declined to be identified. “I didn’t know he died.”

As is the case most nights in the alley, witnesses said, between 20 and 50 people had gathered there by 11 p.m. to drink beer and listen to music. A short time later, a witness said, two males riding bicycles west on Santa Ana Street turned into the alley with handguns drawn and opened fire while screaming their apparent gang identity.

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“They were yelling ‘Travelers!’ ” said a 22-year-old witness who asked not to be identified, referring to the name of one of about 35 gangs known to Anaheim authorities. “They were yelling that (name), and then I heard a bunch of shots. After that, they all started running.”

The witness accounts differ somewhat from a police statement, which indicates that the two gunman shared a single bicycle. Police also said they did not know whether the shooting was gang related.

During the gunfire, said local resident Marta Torres, 25, she saw many of the youths in the crowd scramble for cover, some darting into carports and apartment stairwells.

“I heard the bullets,” said Torres, surveying the alley littered with broken bottles and discarded beer cartons, her two small children clinging to her legs. “This happens every night, every night. When it happens, they (youths) run into our apartments or break our car windows.”

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When the group returned to the alley following the shooting, witnesses said, friends took the wounded boy to Western Medical Center-Anaheim, where he later died.

The scene of Friday’s shooting is well known to Anaheim police officers. It is a place where 80-year-old resident Joseph Serna said he has grown accustomed to the sound of gunfire from his bedroom window overlooking the alley. And the narrow pavement stretching between the two rows of low-slung apartment complexes is part of what Mayor Fred Hunter said Saturday is the “toughest” neighborhood in the city.

“I am very sorry about this place now,” Serna said, leaning on his battered pickup parked just off the alley. “The kids are not to blame for this, the fathers and mothers are to blame. Where are the fathers and mothers? The gunshots, they go off every night. It’s gotten so that I’m used to hearing it now.”

On typical evenings, Serna said the young people, most between the ages of 16 and 20, begin gathering at about 5 or 6 p.m. Most always, he says, the group begins drinking by dusk and the violence erupts late in the evening.

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“This used to be a clean place, a good place,” Serna said. “It started with the graffiti. I see these guys over here playing around and drinking beer. I tell them they must do something more with their time.”

“There is a way to eliminate this stuff,” he said, his hands waving in front of him. “What’s a kid 16 years old doing out at night?”

Other residents, who also asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, blamed police for failing to rid the area of gang violence.

“We’re moving out of here next month,” one woman said while loading her three children into the family station wagon. “This goes on every weekend.”

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Hunter, whose law office is also a short distance from the shooting scene, said he had been involved in a campaign to rid the area of graffiti but conceded that the neighborhood has grown more violent in recent years.

“My secretary won’t even work late in this area,” he said from his office at Broadway and Philadelphia Street. “This area is the toughest area in Anaheim.”

Police Sgt. Tom Mathisen said authorities are quite familiar with the scene of the shooting, but could not say how often police have been called to incidents there in recent times.

Mathisen said the area encompassing the alley has been home to a gang called Kroeger Street, but he said he did not know if the gang was involved in the Friday night shooting. By late Saturday, no arrests had been made in connection with the shooting.

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