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Intruders Secretly Living in Yard of Shooter : Crime: A secret hovel is discovered behind his Winnetka home. Police say resident appears to have been justified in slaying of one man and wounding of a second inside his house.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Raymond John Komoorian, who fatally shot one transient and seriously wounded another when he caught them ransacking his bedroom early Sunday morning, had become an unwitting host to the homeless, Los Angeles police said Monday.

West Valley detectives investigating the shooting followed a trail of blood left by the wounded man and found a makeshift shelter in Komoorian’s back yard, complete with a sleeping bag and sofa cushions.

A transient had removed cinder blocks from a wall separating Komoorian’s yard from nearby railroad tracks and set up housekeeping on a berm, Detective Rick Swanston said.

“There was a sofa, or sofa cushions at least, and some clothing in his own back yard that he didn’t even know about,” Swanston said. “They lived in a corner of his back yard.”

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Komoorian had no idea anyone was living there, Swanston said.

But for the transients who follow the railroad tracks that slice across the western San Fernando Valley, his back yard had one thing going for it: location.

It was just steps away from a recycling center, where transients could cash in the bottles and cans they collect. It was shady and private; the thick growth of bushes hid them from sight. And there were plenty of free oranges from Komoorian’s trees.

Over the weekend, the lifestyles of two men on the fringes of society and a suburban homeowner trying to hold onto what he has collided with violence.

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“I think what went on there was just characteristic of the tension and frustrations that are building across our city,” said Deputy Police Chief Mark A. Kroeker, who commands the Los Angeles Police Department’s Valley Bureau.

The story began to unfold Saturday afternoon, when a Neighborhood Watch group conducting a cleanup of a mile-long stretch of track abutting their homes discovered and dismantled several cardboard-box hovels hidden in bushes behind Komoorian’s house. The brush and river cane had become so overgrown, transients had carved out tunnels and chamber-like rooms.

Members of the South Winnetka Neighborhood Watch cut down the brush, stacked the clothes, sleeping bags and food in piles by Victory Boulevard, and planted bougainvillea.

Neighborhood Watch leader Al Denney explained that bougainvillea is too scratchy to sleep in, and discourages transients. “That’s why we call it the green barbed wire,” he said.

But the group’s act of civic pride set in motion a bizarre sequence of events and misconceptions.

When the two transients returned to their hovel Sunday evening, they became upset that their few possessions had been disturbed. One of them was particularly upset about a missing passport, according to neighbors.

Suspecting they had been stolen, the volunteers had handed the items over to police.

For reasons that may have no greater foundation than his proximity to the problem, the transients suspected Komoorian--even though he had nothing to do with the cleanup, police said.

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Shortly after 9 p.m., the transients went looking for him, knocking on his door. Komoorian wasn’t home. They told a neighbor they suspected that Komoorian had taken a wallet and some papers from their hovels.

Three hours later, one of them was dead in a bedroom of Komoorian’s Keokuk Avenue home and the other, seriously wounded, faced murder charges.

Swanston said police believe that the papers and passport belonged to the dead transient, a 47-year-old native of Honduras, whose identity won’t be released until relatives are notified.

The wallet was stolen two years ago in a Canoga Park burglary.

Meanwhile, the second transient, who police believe is Ismael Rodriguez, 42, remained in serious condition at Northridge Hospital Medical Center with bullet wounds to the chest.

Swanston said detectives expect to present the case to the district attorney, perhaps as early as today. Rodriguez faces a murder charge under a section of the law that holds crime partners responsible for deaths that occur during the commission of felonies. Komoorian, an air-conditioning mechanic, is not likely to face charges since the shooting appears to be self-defense, police said.

Komoorian, 47, told police that he became suspicious that something was amiss when he returned home from a friend’s birthday party about midnight Sunday. His dog was acting strangely and his bedroom door was closed and a light was on--even though he was sure that he had left the door open and the light off.

He retrieved a .45-caliber pistol from the kitchen and walked toward the bedroom and opened the door. He began firing when the two men lunged out at him, Swanston said. They were unarmed.

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He’d told a neighbor that he was taking classes in self-protection.

Swanston said the shooting seems to be justified because Komoorian felt physically threatened by the intruders, who already had stuffed pillowcases with clothing and jewelry, and who lunged at him.

Kroeker said the incident probably contains some lessons on how to handle contacts between civic groups and addicts, transients or the mentally ill. For example, Kroeker said, he might encourage civil organizations to ask police officers to mediate when dealing with transients.

“There’s always a question as to whether people are homeless, home-contemptuous, or whether they are part of the open air sanitarium that exists out there,” Kroeker said.

But he says his sympathies lie with the Neighborhood Watch volunteers.

“They didn’t go into the encampment and start shooting people,” Kroeker said. “It was the other way around. I sympathize with Neighborhood Watch people. I don’t see it as a vigilante mentality. They’re trying to (protect) a quality of life. People aren’t going to take it. They’re at that stage in this city.”


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