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Woman Holding Toddler Is Killed by Stray Bullet : Crime: Mother was in parked car as suspected gang member fired at rivals across mini-mall lot, police say.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rene Hurtado had just walked back to her car Saturday night after making a quick purchase at a convenience store. Waiting for her in the car were her 18-month-old daughter, her sister-in-law, and her niece, also 18 months old.

Hurtado’s daughter had been fussy and crying. Climbing into the driver’s seat, Hurtado, 22, turned and picked up her daughter to try to quiet her before driving away.

Without warning, a man Los Angeles police believe to be a gang member began shooting at a group of rival gang members across the parking lot of the mini-mall near Plummer Street and Van Nuys Boulevard.

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None of the men who apparently were the intended targets was injured, police said, but one of the bullets pierced the windshield of Hurtado’s car, striking her in the chest and barely missing her daughter.

Hurtado’s sister-in-law, Brenda Wong, drove her to Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, where Hurtado, of Panorama City, was pronounced dead at 10:25 p.m., said Van Nuys Division Sgt. Harry Rosenfeld.

Wong and the two toddlers were not injured.

“The woman was holding her daughter and the bullet apparently just missed the little girl,” Rosenfeld said.

Police could provide little information about Hurtado on Sunday. Family members gathered at Wong’s North Hills apartment on Sunday but declined to discuss the shooting.

Rosenfeld said police spoke to a witness at the scene and have a description of the gunman. Police on Sunday suggested they may have have identified a suspect, but would not release additional information.

Tom Haddad, the owner of Regal Liquor Market and Deli, said he heard about 10 gunshots after Hurtado left his store Saturday night.

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“First there was about five shots, and then I heard another five shots,” Haddad said Sunday. In the parking lot in front of his store, the only visible sign of the shooting was broken glass where Hurtado’s car had been parked.

Haddad, who opened his store about three years ago when the mini-mall opened, said gang members do not usually hang around in the area.

However, a man who was buying cigarettes at the store said there is a gang in the neighborhood. He said the mini-mall is known by residents as a place where drugs are sold.

Haddad said that after making her purchase and going to her car, Hurtado returned to the store to get change.

“Maybe if she hadn’t come back for change, she would have left before the shooting started and she wouldn’t have been shot,” he said.

Times Correspondent Eric Slater contributed to this story.

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