There were drive-by shootings every week near the Lynwood apartment where Guadalupe Arguello and her family lived and the sounds of gunfire frightened her youngest daughter, Grisel. So last month Arguello moved a few miles away to a small house on the edge of Lynwood in search of safety.
But they still could not escape the violence of the inner city. Grisel, 10, was shot in the head Tuesday afternoon when two suspected gang members on bicycles fired at a group of rivals. She is in extremely critical condition at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center.
"The doctors told us it will be a miracle if she survives," said her aunt Theresa Rodriquez. "When a 10-year-old girl gets hit in the head with a .45-caliber bullet . . . ," she said, then paused and stared into the distance. "This is so terrible, so crazy."
Grisel and her mother were walking to a relative's house a block away when the two men on bicycles each fired shots at a group of youths on the sidewalk, sheriff's deputies said. Only Grisel was hit.
"After all the shots were fired, Guadalupe began yelling to Grisel: 'Get up, get up,"' Rodriquez said. "Then she picked her up and saw that her forehead was covered with blood.
"I visited Grisel in the hospital last night right, before she had surgery. She opened her eyes and tried to say something to me, but she couldn't. Now she's in a coma."
Residents of the neighborhood, which is lined with small ramshackle homes, said the two men on bicycles suspected the other youths of stealing their car, stripping it and setting it on fire. The gunmen, neighbors said, wanted revenge.
"We're seeing more and more innocent bystanders getting caught in these shootings," sheriff's spokesman Deputy George Ducoulombier said. "This little girl was just walking down the street in broad daylight talking to her mother. She probably didn't even know what hit her."
In May, 7-year-old Wendy Espinoza was seriously wounded in a drive-by in East Los Angeles. Two weeks ago Gov. Pete Wilson visited the spot of the shooting with Wendy and railed against the increasing number of bystanders who are being killed in drive-by shootings. He appealed for the Assembly to pass a bill that would made drive-by killers subject to the death penalty or life in prison.
Guadalupe Arguello spent Wednesday at a sister's house in Lynwood, after spending the night at the hospital. In the dim living room, Arguello sat on the sofa, surrounded by relatives, and talked of her youngest daughter, a fifth-grader at Lindberg Elementary School.
"She was a happy girl, always smiling," she said, closing her eyes and crying. "She liked music . . . she liked to dance. She was a good student in school. She was such a pretty girl."
Arguello began sobbing and was comforted by her oldest son. "The woman said she would die," Arguello suddenly began shouting. "She said she would die."
A relative explained that when Arguello was pregnant with Grisel she thought she heard the child crying. A divinadora (fortuneteller) told Arguello, the relative said, "that because the child cried in the womb she will not live."
Guadalupe, whose husband was deported to Mexico a year ago, has eight children, three of whom still live at home. She supports the family by working as a janitor at a swap meet in Compton.
"Everyone in the family was very hard-working, very family-oriented and respectful," said neighbor Ray Brown. "They are good Christian people . . . beautiful people."