Shootings are no unusual occurrence in this neighborhood south of USC. A couple of weeks ago, they found a body stuffed in a large, handmade bird cage behind one of the houses.
But there was something so terribly sad about this one. Transito Velado got out of bed Friday morning to discover someone had shot his blond German shepherd, Oso. When he walked across the street to investigate, the gunman shot him to death.
It was so early in the morning, the family was hardly awake. One minute, Mirian Velado was asleep in her bed; the next she was giving CPR to a husband dying on a plot of dead grass near 62nd Street and Menlo Avenue.
There was no robbery, no apparent motive. Just five children--17 months to 14 years--suddenly fatherless, a wife wailing with grief and a patch of blood on a neighbor's front lawn, covered by police with loose dirt.
By Saturday morning, family members and friends were trailing in and out of the house. "He loved dogs," a relative said. Oso lay under the family's car, his left front leg bandaged, panting in the unseasonable heat.
"It is so senseless" was all Velado's sister, Vilma Palacios, could say. "All he did was ask why they did this to his dog and the answer he got was a shot in the head."
Some of the younger children looked dazed. Beatriz, the eldest, composed herself long enough to describe her father to reporters. He was a 39-year-old security guard who came from El Salvador in 1977. He had been on disability for a couple of months and was to start a new job Monday morning. He was looking forward to picking up his new uniform and shoes. He had taken in five dogs--two inside and three outside. Oso liked to wander sometimes.
My husband "got along with anybody. I don't know why this happened," Mirian Velado said, sobbing as 17-month-old Robert walked obliviously around her feet on the family's front porch.
She was still trying Saturday to figure out what had happened.
Velado went looking for Oso. He found the dog limping toward the house, shot in the leg. Some neighbors pointed in the direction of the gunshot and Velado walked across the street to confront a man standing there.
"Why did you shoot my dog?" he probably asked. Velado's 14-year-old daughter, Beatriz, was watching from the window when she saw her father turn to walk back toward the house. Then he fell.
More neighbors poured out of their houses to see a paramedic hunched over the wounded Velado as his wife held his hand. Several of the children saw their father lying in the dirt. He died later at a nearby hospital.
That night, Velado's 7-year-old son, Humberto, asked if his father was alive. An uncle lied and said yes, knowing the little boy had trouble falling asleep unless his father tucked him in.
"The confrontation was only verbal and Transito turned to walk away," Los Angeles police Lt. Sergio Robleto said afterward.
Police on Saturday had no further information about the suspect, who fled after the shooting. The family huddled inside the brown clapboard house and shut the door. Beatriz was worrying how they would survive on her mother's salary as a dental assistant.
Outside, the neighbors meandered around the dark patch of dirt. Some were too frightened to talk, others too curious not to.
They weren't given time to fathom why somebody would shoot an innocent dog when the question was eclipsed by an act more heinous. They seemed more puzzled than stunned.
"He was a nice man," Sheba Kidd, 18, said, holding her own 7-month-old daughter. "He woke up early in the morning and went to work. He didn't bother nobody."
"This is every day. There is a shooting every day," her friend said in disgust. Kidd agreed, remembering the corpse in the bird cage.