Even on the best days, when the smog clears and the palm trees beckon, Los Angeles is a brutal place.
Last year, 2,401 corpses were wheeled into the county coroner's office--an average of 6.6 a day--with bullet holes, knife wounds, shattered skulls or some other signature of homicide.
The tide of carnage has become so numbing that when forces converge to add 28 names to the tally, as was the case in a brutal 60-hour stretch this past weekend, the county's nearly 9 million residents seem to pause only briefly to register the grim facts before getting back to the business of their lives.
Yet for an unfortunate fraction of the population, the weekend death toll--one of the worst ever in Los Angeles--reverberated in more personal ways. They were left to sort through the fallout of 28 lost lives.
Some did it out of duty, such as the homicide detectives who mined the grisly details and the pathologists who prepared for the onslaught of autopsies. Some did it instinctively, in memory of a slain daughter or friend, such as the relatives and neighbors forced to confront life without their loved ones. Others, such as barroom managers faced with hosing down bloodstains, did it because the deaths remained a stubborn impediment to business as usual.
"Jesus Christ, what is happening here?" asked Jeff Williams, whose neighbor, Los Angeles Police Detective Ed Kislo, was a victim of the weekend mayhem. "Is life that bad?"
Friends said that Kislo, 50, had spent the last 19 years roaming the seamy corners of Los Angeles as a patrol officer and, most recently, as an investigator of suicide cases. Though he loved his work, he had become drained. He maintained a tough cop exterior, but was deeply troubled by the wasted human lives he encountered every day.
"He was sad about it all," Williams said. "The nonsense shootings, the suicides, the people who were killed just like it was nothing."
Kislo had forged a tiny island of peace on a dusty lot next to the Santa Monica Freeway in Palms. The divorced father of a 14-year-old boy, he moved there seven months ago to save money in preparation for his scheduled retirement next year, when he planned to move out of California.
Kislo and Williams bought matching trailers and set them up near each other on the lot, a parcel used mainly by contractors to stow construction equipment and old tractor parts. He fenced off a little square, shaded by eucalyptus trees, and adopted a junkyard puppy he named Bear.
But Kislo's dream of escaping to the forests and streams of Oregon ended late Saturday night, when a neighbor called and asked if he would check her back yard for a prowler she had heard. Almost as soon as Kislo arrived, the assailant shot him once in the chest.
Kislo was armed, police said, but it did not appear that he had time to return fire.
"He was going to . . . get the hell out of this crazy city," Williams said. "It's sorry the way things are around here. Taking people's lives like kicking a dog."
About the time Kislo was killed, a burst of automatic gunfire rang out at 112th and Figueroa streets. Father Gary Banks, associate pastor of Ascension Catholic Church, was sitting in the rectory kitchen when he heard the blasts. He and a visiting priest ran to the church doorway to assess the damage.
As it turned out, no one was hurt, Banks said, but the explosion left his visitor badly shaken.
"He was all upset. I told him: 'You know what the worst thing is: I'm afraid we're just getting too used to it,' " Banks said, noting that his church usually mourns between three and five deaths each month--most of them young men. "Violence is part of the daily fare here. The shadow of death is never far away. . . . The problem is, it may be the fifth death I'm dealing with this month, but it's the only death for that family. And that's the way we have to treat it."
By Monday, Los Angeles Police Detective Richard Hoffman had survived one of the bloodiest weeks in the 3 1/2-year existence of the department's South Bureau homicide division. As the supervising detective on round-the-clock call, he established an office record by responding to 17 incidents in seven days--three double homicides, 10 single homicides, three gunshot head wounds in which the victims survived and one ambiguous case later determined to be a death from natural causes.
Hoffman's last call was a stabbing case that dragged him out of bed at 3:40 a.m. Monday.
After such a busy week, "you feel frazzled," Hoffman said.
So far this month, 85 people have been killed in Los Angeles, 45 of them in the last 10 days. While August has traditionally been the city's leading month for homicides--a fact that many police officials and psychologists attribute to heat and free time--the last few days have been particularly frightening.
Some of the weekend's violence was random, some of it fueled by passion, some of it determined by the merest difference of a few inches in a bullet's path.
By Monday morning, its toll included a Little League coach gunned down in Eagle Rock, allegedly by his girlfriend's ex-husband; the owner of a Long Beach ice cream stand, fatally wounded during an apparent robbery; a disc jockey shot in the head at a southwest Los Angeles birthday party after stepping outside to check the noise level in the street; a 14-year-old girl shot, allegedly by another teen-age girl during an argument in Boyle Heights, and two deaths at a gang party of about 200 people that erupted in a gun battle.
"It was quite a weekend," said Lt. Dave Waterman, a supervisor of homicide detectives in the Northeast Division, which had three murders. "It wasn't your relaxing days in the sun."
Besides the fatalities, at least two dozen people were wounded between 6 p.m. Friday and 6 a.m. Monday, six of them by law enforcement officers. Before dawn Saturday, sheriff's deputies fired 15 rounds at two brothers who were seen leaving a La Puente apartment complex where they had allegedly shot at several neighbors after a night of drinking. Raul Rincon, 22, was struck in the chest, arm and leg and hospitalized in stable condition, officers said. His brother, Guillermo, 23, suffered a small cut.
Twenty-four hours later, Veronica Nunez, 19, was wounded while sitting in her wheelchair talking with friends outside the El Charrito Market at the corner of 23rd and Wall streets, just south of downtown. Two men in a car stopped at the corner, asked directions and then opened fire on the group, striking Nunez in the lower back, police said.
Nunez's boyfriend took her to County-USC Medical Center, where she was in stable condition Monday, authorities said. For hours Sunday, the wheelchair remained on the sidewalk, empty and stained with blood. Police said the case appeared gang-related.
"They just keep shooting. . . . It's not worse. It's not better. It's the same," said neighbor Martha Ortiz, 24, adding that she believed Nunez was confined to the wheelchair after an earlier incident in which she was shot in the legs.
"It's completely getting out of hand," said Gilbert Morales, 60, an unemployed cook, as he pointed out signposts of violence in the neighborhood--a fatal shooting down the street and the spot nearby where a police officer was recently wounded. "It's not safe after dark. I don't care who you are or what you are."
At the Los Angeles County coroner's office, officials said the weekend's body count was one of the worst ever. Coroner's teams rolled out to shooting scenes, collecting fingerprints, photographing the victims and retrieving wallets, jewelry and other possessions that will be claimed by next of kin.
By coincidence, the department's computer system broke down Monday morning, slowing the processing of the weekend's reports. But Scott Carrier, a department spokesman, said the coroner's 22 forensic pathologists would be able to keep up with the heavy workload because the office routinely investigates as many as 50 cases a day, many of which are not homicides.
"Certainly they can feel the pressure," Carrier said, "but these people are geared to handle the big numbers."
After the big numbers were tallied, the city's elected officials expressed outrage, but only in response to phone calls from reporters.
Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky said the city should consider bringing in the National Guard to aid the police in holding the line against crime. "The bottom line is we have . . . had a war going on for quite a while in this city," he said. "We are not able to police it with the conventional tactics and techniques."
Mayor Tom Bradley could not be reached for comment. But Deputy Mayor Mark Fabiani said that the mayor has sought to address the crisis by proposing a ballot measure that would add 1,000 new police officers to the city's force.
Police Chief Willie L. Williams, who was the guest speaker at a luncheon Monday hosted by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, also was unavailable. County Supervisors Gloria Molina and Kenneth Hahn, whose districts in east and south Los Angeles suffered the brunt of the weekend violence, were out of town on vacation.
As of noon Monday, South Bureau detectives had not made any arrests related to the weekend killings--cases that add to a yawning backlog of unsolved homicides. Of the 276 homicides handled by the bureau this year, arrests have been made in 109.
Murders are harder to solve these days, detectives said, because the public is less trusting of police, gang members are less likely to talk and other witnesses fear retaliation if they cooperate.
Detective Rick Marks, who was assigned two cases over the weekend, said he is optimistic that arrests will be made and predicted that the unit's clearance rate will climb. "It's an issue of pride," he said. "If you have a bad year, that works on you. You just get frustrated. . . . But it ain't over 'til it's over."
A Tragic Toll
In a particularly violent weekend, 28 people died in Los Angeles County between 6 p.m. Friday and 6 a.m. Monday, according to the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and wire service reports.
As a comparison, during approximately the same period, Hurricane Andrew left about a dozen dead, 70 were slain in the continuing unrest in Bosnia-Herzegovina, at least 20 were killed near Johannesburg, South Africa, and at least 20 died during bombardment of Afghanistan's capital of Kabul by Muslim rebels.
Here are the comparable tallies for slayings in selected areas in the United States:
Area Population Shot Stabbed Other Total Los Angeles County 8.9 million 25 3 0 28* City of New York 7.3 million - - - 25** Wayne County (Detroit) 2.1 million 3 1 0 4 Philadelphia County 1.6 million 2 1 1 4 Cook County (Chicago) 5.1 million 3 1 2 6 Washington, D.C. .6 million 4 0 0 4 San Diego County 2.5 million 1 0 0 1
* The chief medical examiner's office confirmed only 25 homicides.
** Breakdown of homicides not available.
Compiled by Times researcher Cecilia Rasmussen
A Deadly Weekend
It was a particularly violent weekend in Los Angeles County. Here are the 28 fatalities that occurred between 6 p.m. Friday and 6 a.m. Monday:
Fernando Miranda, 32, was fatally wounded and two friends were injured in a drive-by shooting. They were drinking beer in the back yard of a Florence home in the 2000 block of East 76th Place. At 9:10 p.m.
An 18-year-old male was shot to death and his 15-year-old friend was wounded during what may have been a confrontation with a gang member in Hawthorne at 111th Street and Hawthorne Boulevard. At 9:53 p.m.
Hector Arroyo Jr., 21, was found shot to death by a state Highway Patrol officer at the Soto Street off-ramp of the San Bernardino Freeway in Boyle Heights. About 12:15 a.m.
Jesus Valdez, 20, was shot to death in what police believe was a gang-related incident at Strathern Street and Vineland Boulevard, in the parking lot of a restaurant in Sun Valley. About 12:20 a.m.
Domingo Sac, 45, and Hurbano Lopez, 24, were killed in an apparent drive-by shooting as they sat in their car in the 3200 block of Edward Avenue in Glassell Park. About 12:30 a.m.
Hector Martinez, 24, riding his bicycle in the 3000 block of South Halldale Avenue in southwest Los Angeles, was fatally wounded in an apparent drive-by shooting. About 12:55 a.m.
Harry Morgan, 30, was stabbed to death during a dispute in the 2700 block of Van Buren Place near Exposition Park. About 3:55 a.m.
Ralph Elguezabal, 25, was shot to death, allegedly by his girlfriend's ex-husband, during an argument at a Little League game in an Eagle Rock park on Yosemite Drive. About 9:10 a.m.
Jimmy Rodriguez, 23, was killed by a man who walked up and shot him in an apparent gang incident in the 1200 block of North Evergreen Avenue in Boyle Heights. About 8 p.m.
Cary Mario Guzman, 25, was fatally shot during a traffic dispute at Oxnard Street and Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood after he and his friends pulled off the Hollywood Freeway. About 8:45 p.m.
Lorenzo G. Perkins, 22, and Paul A. Haughton, 20, were killed in an apparent gang-related incident on El Segundo Boulevard at the Harbor Freeway in southeast Los Angeles when a car pulled up alongside theirs and several shots were fired. About 9:15 p.m.
Robin Alvarado, 23, was stabbed to death in the 700 block of South Berendo Street in Los Angeles. About 10:15 p.m.
Edward Kislo, 50, an off-duty, LAPD detective, was fatally shot while investigating reports of a prowler in his neighbor's back yard in the 3700 block of Canfield Avenue in Palms. About midnight.
Desiree Macias, 14, was fatally shot during a fight among teen-age girls at Siskiyou Avenue and Esperanza Street in Boyle Heights. At 12:10 a.m.
Timothy Lamb, 24, and Ongelique Millner, 19, were fatally shot in an argument at a party attended by about 200 people from various gangs in the 100 block of East 99th Street in southeast L.A. About 12:15 a.m.
Mark Sebastian Gasca, 17, was shot to death during an argument with another teen-ager at Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Paxton Street in Pacoima about 12:15 a.m.
Paul Thompson, 23, working as a deejay for a private party, was shot to death in the 4000 block of 3rd Avenue in southwest Los Angeles as he walked to the driveway to check on complaints about the noise level of the music. About 2 a.m.
Carlos Gutierrez, 20, was shot to death during a dispute over his former girlfriend in the 3000 block of North Broadway in Lincoln Heights. About 2 a.m.
An unidentified teen-ager died during a drive-by shooting in the 400 block of North Kenmore Avenue in Los Angeles. About 2:15 a.m.
A 17-year-old boy, whose name was withheld until notification of relatives, was shot to death in a gang-related incident in the 1000 block of Sentinel Avenue in Los Angeles. About 5:20 a.m.
Tony Proxmire, 43, was found shot to death on the floor of his restaurant, Tony's Hamburgers and Freeze in the 1400 block of Pacific Avenue in Long Beach, after an apparent robbery. At 1:45 p.m.
Jeffrey Arzouman, 34, was fatally shot when he entered a home in the 4300 block of Rosado Street in Long Beach, apparently intending to rob it, and was confronted by the owner. About 2 p.m.
Daniel Sanchez, 32, was found dead of multiple gunshot wounds behind a gas station in the 1800 block of Marengo Street in Boyle Heights. At 12:30 a.m.
Felipe Sotelo, 26, was fatally shot during a confrontation outside La Zona Rosa bar in the 1000 bock of Macy Street in Boyle Heights. At 2 a.m.
Alejandro Hernandez, 26, was found stabbed to death next to his car in the 7000 block of South Bonsallo Avenue in South L.A. At 3:20 a.m.
SOURCE: LAPD, L.A. County Sheriff's Department, wire service reports
Contributing to this story were Times staff writers Alicia Di Rado and Otto Strong.