The postgame party for Westlake High School kicked off just as it does after most home football games, with hundreds of students, parents, players and cheerleaders snacking and yakking at Hudson's Grill.
Then, police say, suspected gang members ignited a brawl outside the restaurant Friday that left three Westlake High students injured, blood on the sidewalk and an unanswered question: Why?
None of the 17-year-old assault victims are affiliated with a gang, police said. And Hudson's--a popular postgame hangout--has never had such trouble before, its owner said.
But by the time the crowd had cleared, one boy had a smashed forehead, another had a broken hand and cut head and a third boy had a shallow stab wound in the ribs.
Ventura County sheriff's detectives had dozens of leads to sort through.
And the mother of one victim had a heavy load of anger to vent against the people who hurt her son.
"The kids that did this are spineless maggots," said the Thousand Oaks woman, not identified here because of her son's age. "It makes you wonder what people are bringing up."
She blamed the young attackers' parents for not raising them right. And she criticized the crowd for not stopping the fight before her son's skull was smacked and his hand broken by a girl who he says beat him with a heavy car-locking device known as The Club.
"It's like it was some kind of entertainment," the mother fumed. "If enough people had gotten involved, the outcome would have been far different. As it stands right now, my son's changed. He'll never be the same."
The fracas at the eatery on Thousand Oaks Boulevard broke out at about 11 p.m., said Sheriff's Sgt. Michael de los Santos, when several teen-aged boys strolled up to a Westlake High student and threw out a common gang challenge:
"Where you from?" they asked the student, De los Santos said.
"I don't know what you're talking about. Nowhere," the boy responded.
"Then they proceeded to jump him," De los Santos said.
The attackers pummeled one victim with fists, and when the boy fought back, more suspected gang members joined in, De los Santos said. A Westlake High football player dropped the pay phone he was using and ran to help his friend fight back, and a third boy joined them to fight off the assailants, De los Santos said.
But by that point, the first two boys had been bludgeoned to the pavement, where they were being beaten with metal bars and kicked by at least three or four assailants each, witnesses told The Times.
"Nothing like this has ever happened before," said one girl who saw the brawl, a Westlake High junior who asked not to be identified.
"I just stood there with my mouth wide open and my hands covering my face," she said. "Some girls were crying. I was just shocked."
Another Westlake student, a 17-year-old senior, said of one victim, "His head was [swollen] out to here, and he was spitting up blood."
The boy, who would not give his name, said that parents inside Hudson's began pounding on the windows, alarmed by the brawl.
And Westlake High football coaches hustled through the crowded restaurant, said Coach Jim Benkert, but by then the assailants had backed off.
They stood a few yards from the injured boys shouting out their gang name as other kids shouted back, and eventually ran off into the dark, Benkert said. The coaches then took the wounded boys into the restaurant and cared for them until paramedics arrived, he said.
One boy "took a good whack to the head," said quarterback coach Darryl Smith. "He was down and very groggy when we got to him. I said, 'Let's get you up and get some ice on your head.' "
Hudson's owner Davis Beckham said the restaurant is "very popular with the players, the parents and coaches after the game." But he added: "Our guests weren't involved, our employees weren't involved. . . . This was the first time anything like this has ever happened."
However, the victim's mother said the mall around Hudson's should hire security guards, adding, "I don't think they were prepared."
And one girl said it was only a matter of time before a fight broke out among the postgame throngs.
"I was kind of waiting for something like that to happen," she said. "The way everybody hangs out in the parking lot, it's so open and unrestricted with people from other schools coming through there. There's just too many kids hanging out."