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Boy, 7, Added to Deadly Toll of Assault Weapons

TIMES STAFF WRITER

All of 7 years old, Evan Foster was a regular at Inglewood’s Darby Park.

In the summer, he attended the park’s day camp. In the winter, he played basketball. “Sweet,” said Monica F. Rodriguez, the park’s recreation supervisor. “A sweet boy.”

On Monday evening, Evan showed up at the park with his mother and baby brother, 10-month-old Alec, to register for the upcoming winter basketball league. After saying goodbyes to the familiar faces inside the recreation center, they walked back to the parking lot, where Alec was buckled into his car seat and Evan snuggled up next to him.

And then, in a flash of gunfire, Evan was dead--shot in the head just a few feet from a plaque and pole dedicated to the city’s children that proclaims, “May Peace Be in Our Homes and Communities.”

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In what police Tuesday decried as a senseless, sickening demonstration of the lethal power of an assault rifle, Evan was shot in the skull by a bullet intended for a man nearby in the parking lot.

Evan’s little brother, Alec, was hit in the face by bullet fragments. He was listed Tuesday in stable condition at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center.

Their mother, Rhonda Foster, who had frantically tried to move the car out of the way, was not hit. Nor was the intended victim, an Inglewood man who, according to police, was “just there,” waiting in the parking lot for someone he had dropped off at the center.

Inglewood police surmised Tuesday that the attackers believed they had targeted a rival gang member and opened fire. The intended victim was “taken for being a gang member when in fact he wasn’t,” a police source said.

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Armed with few leads, police searched Tuesday for suspects in the latest in a long line of senseless shootings of young Los Angeles-area children.

Along with Evan’s family and friends, police struggled to understand the unexplainable--why such a cruel fate sometimes awaits an innocent child.

“Certainly it’s a very heinous crime,” Inglewood Police Sgt. Michael McBride said. “It’s right before Christmas. We’re talking about a 7-year-old who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Outside the Fosters’ modest North Inglewood apartment, friends voiced similar sentiments.

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“For something like this to happen to a little kid, I don’t believe it,” said John Griffith, 32, of Hawthorne, a close friend of father Ruett Foster.

“It’s unbelievable. I just can’t believe it. I can’t understand how something like this can happen to an innocent kid, a loving kid. This kid had God in his heart. He loved God.”

Evan and Alec are but the year’s most recent victims of errant gang-related gunfire. Although a small number of incidents have involved assault rifles, such incidents have been increasing in frequency.

Among the youngsters killed this year by stray bullets:

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In August, a 9-year-old boy, Hector Martinez, was shot to death and his 6-year-old brother, Christian, was wounded in a Florence neighborhood in a barrage of bullets from an AK-47 assault rifle.

In July, a 2-year-old boy, Erick Jimenez, who was riding on his father’s shoulders in Inglewood, was fatally wounded by a bullet fired by a 16-year-old suspected gang member who was aiming at the occupants of a passing car.

In May, a bullet fired from an assault weapon flew more than 300 feet, tore through a wooden fence and a window, then into the living room of an east Rancho Dominguez home, where it hit and killed a 28-year-old mother, Laura Reyes, and her 3-year-old daughter, Celeste.

And in April, in the so-called Los Angeles city strip between Carson and Gardena, a 2-year-old girl, Priscilla Gutierrez, was killed when her family’s car became trapped in the cross-fire of a gang shootout.

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Darby Park, located off West Arbor Vitae Street next to the complex housing the Forum and the Hollywood Park racetrack, is just blocks north of one of the most notorious neighborhoods in Inglewood--an area known alternately as Darby-Dixon or “the Bottoms.”

Earlier this year, county prosecutors secured a preliminary injunction barring about 40 gang members who essentially had controlled the six-block area from gambling, loitering, drinking in public and from the public use of pagers and cellular phones.

Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti announced the crackdown at Darby Park.

Nevertheless, according to recreation supervisor Rodriguez, joggers and tennis players, the park has long remained a haven.

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“It doesn’t happen here at Darby,” Rodriguez said. “It’s peaceful and quiet here every day.”

Evan had been a park regular since he was 2 or 3, Rodriguez said. He began in a preschool program, then graduated to summer camp and to youth sports leagues. “Friendly, outgoing, an all-around nice child,” she said.

About 7 p.m. Monday night, his mother brought Evan into the center to register for the winter basketball league.

Moments later, outside in the parking lot, Rhonda Foster strapped Alec into his car seat, in the middle of the car’s back seat. Evan scrambled into the right-side seat next to his brother.

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Just then, according to police, another car pulled up and parked a few spaces away.

Several men got out of that car--how many remains uncertain--and approached a man standing by the auto parked next to the Foster car, McBride said.

Words were exchanged, though “we’re unclear exactly what was said,” McBride said.

One of the men produced an assault rifle, McBride said. The intended victim began to run--leaving the Foster vehicle directly in the line of fire. The gunman began shooting.

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Rhonda Foster tried to back her car up, away from the shots. But several rounds raked her vehicle.

When the car screeched to a halt, she noticed that Evan was slumped over and Alec was bleeding from his face.

She grabbed the infant, ran inside the recreation center, handed him to a man and asked him to call police.

Rhonda Foster ran back to the car and tried, in vain, to give aid to her older son. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

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Alec underwent surgery twice Monday night, once to his nose, the other to his eyes, hospital officials said. A doctor said the boy probably will not lose his sight but has cornea damage to his left eye and may need future surgery.

The parents did not speak publicly Tuesday.

Standing outside the Fosters’ second-story apartment, Griffith, the father’s friend, shook his head and sighed.

“One minute I’m here with him,” Griffith said, speaking of 7-year-old Evan. “Now,” he said, pausing to catch himself, “now he’s not here.”

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Times correspondent Deborah Belgum contributed to this story.

* GUN LAW VOTE: City Council agrees to exempt movie makers from gun law. B1


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