A gunfight erupted during a statewide fraternity picnic at a Van Nuys park Sunday evening, leaving one young man dead and at least four other people wounded, one critically, authorities said.
Witnesses said a dispute between two groups of men over a car apparently led to the 6:45 p.m. shootout at Woodley Park. About 300 picnickers were sent running for cover.
One man was arrested fleeing the scene in his car and a gun was recovered, Los Angeles Police Deputy Chief Mark A. Kroeker said.
“It’s an afternoon in the park, and it was ruined for a lot of good people,” Kroeker said.
The violence marred the final event of what had been a peaceful weekend of festivities around Los Angeles sponsored by black fraternities and sororities at UCLA. The 14th Annual African People’s National Pan-Hellenic Greek Show drew thousands of students from throughout California, and even some from the East, participants said.
Sunday’s picnic at Woodley Park, in the San Fernando Valley’s Sepulveda Basin, began at 1 p.m. and attracted as many as 500 people, but most had left by the time of the shootout.
Witnesses and police were uncertain Sunday night of how the incident was triggered.
Otis Riggins, 20, a student at Valley College, said he saw one group of young men apparently try to take a car from two other men sitting in it. A man in the car then pulled out a gun, he said, and the others fled--only to return with their own weapons.
Witnesses said the first shots were fired into the air, but that the two sides soon were shooting at each other, and that other picnickers also got weapons. Bystanders frantically tried to take cover behind cars, but many of the vehicles drove off, leaving the people in the open, they said.
“All I could hear was rat-a-tat-tat from different directions,” said one 23-year-old woman.
“People were screaming and guys were crying,” said Tracy Simmons, 22, a graduate student at San Diego State University.
“I never thought I would die before today.”
The victims, three men and two women, were not identified, but authorities said they all were about 20 years old.
Alan Cowen, chief of paramedics for the Los Angeles City Fire Department, said it was difficult for his crews to identify the wounded because “there were a lot of people, a lot of confusion.” The man who was killed sustained gunshot wounds to the upper body and received open-heart massage at Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys before he died, Cowen said.
Another man, 22, suffered similar injuries and was taken to Northridge Hospital Medical Center, where he underwent 3 1/2 hours of surgery, hospital officials said. Cowen described his condition as extremely grave late Sunday.
An 18-year-old woman, also taken to the Northridge hospital, was reported in serious condition with wounds to the neck.
The second injured woman, shot in the thigh, was in serious condition at Encino Hospital.
Fire Department spokesman Mike Little said a fifth shooting victim, wounded in the foot, was not treated by paramedics at the scene, but was taken to Valley Presbyterian Hospital in a private vehicle.
In addition to the shooting victims, one woman was treated at Tarzana Regional Medical Center for labored breathing after the incident.
Numerous witnesses--and the man who was arrested--were taken to the Police Department’s Van Nuys Division headquarters. Police would not say how many other suspects were being sought.
“We have some promising leads and some pretty good witnesses,” said Kroeker, the Valley’s top police official.
Woodley Park, at Victory Boulevard and Woodley Avenue, is a popular gathering area in the sprawling Sepulveda Basin, drawing regular crowds of model airplane, classic car and cricket enthusiasts. It also is the site of the Donald Tillman Water Reclamation Plant, which includes a Japanese garden popular for weddings.
The crowd Sunday was using a field, dotted with trees, near the plant.
“It was a ‘Greek Weekend’ picnic (that) had been going for about four to five hours,” said Nioche Adams, 19, one of a group that traveled from San Diego State University for the events, which included dances, shows and the barbecue finale.
Adams said the picnic was winding down when she saw a car drive onto the grassy area and “people started shooting recklessly.” She said the occupants of the car looked like “outside people,” not participants in the fraternity gathering.
Although police have not ruled out the possibility that gang members infiltrated the event, Dana Maxwell, a 20-year-old student at Cal State Northridge, insisted that the troublemakers “were not gangs. They were just trying to show off, like, ‘Yeah, I got a gat.’ ”
Another witness blamed the shooting on “guys that were drunk.”