Los Angeles Police Department investigators said Monday that they now believe the Saturday night shooting of a 13-year-old and his 2-year-old sister was a random act of violence rather than a targeted, gang-related shooting.
An LAPD spokesman had initially said that Ezekiel Smith, whose 14th birthday is Saturday, was a suspected gang associate and the target of the volleys, which caught his baby sister, Shantel, in the line of fire.
But Det. Roger Murphy, who is handling the case, said Monday there was no evidence to suggest that Ezekiel was the target or that he had gang ties.
“It looks like he and his sister just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Murphy said.
He said investigators were still checking leads but had no indication whom the shots were meant for when they struck Ezekiel and the toddler near the front gate of their home on South Hoover Street in South-Central Los Angeles.
Both children remain on respirators at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center, according to nursing supervisor Ruby Fentry.
The toddler is in critical but stable condition with three gunshot wounds, one severely damaging her arm, family members said. Her brother was in very critical condition, also suffering three gunshots, one to the head.
Neighbors and family members say the street where the two children were shot divides the turf of rival Crips and Bloods gang sets and speculated that the shots were meant for gang members on its east side. Several witnesses said at least two gunmen fired about 30 shots from an alley on the west side of the street toward the east.
At a news conference Monday, community groups announced plans to relocate the family and called for increased attention to inner-city problems.
Kahlid Shah, executive director of the Stop the Violence/Increase the Peace Foundation, pledged to move the family of eight from their small South Hoover home, where they have lived for 13 years.
Family members said they had tried to leave the area before, fleeing the frequent sound of gun fire and the packs of gang members. But they said they did not have enough money to move.
The foundation and other groups represented at the conference said they are also knocking on doors in the area, offering support to residents and urging gang members to stop the fighting.
They also called for gun control and more political attention to urban violence.
“On this day we call Presidents Day, I pray that our president will champion the cause of our children in the inner city,” Shah said. “There’s something wrong when we have urban areas where a gun is more accessible to a youth than a book.”
Bo Taylor, President of Unity One, a Los Angeles organization that seeks to draw youths away from gangs, said, “I just want to send the message to all [gang members]: This has to stop. It’s not the government, it’s not the news media, it’s not white people that are causing the problems, it’s you.”
Family members, who had steadfastly maintained that Ezekiel had no gang ties, stressed it again during Monday’s news conference at the foundation’s Inglewood headquarters.
They called for the parents of gang members in the area to come forward if they believe their children were involved in the shooting.