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Slaying Suspect Barricades Self, Commits Suicide

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A murder suspect facing his third strike under California’s penal code barricaded himself inside a friend’s apartment and killed himself Wednesday morning after Los Angeles police cornered him and evacuated the neighborhood, including a preschool.

Police had an arrest warrant for 23-year-old Ronald Figueroa, wanted in connection with a May drive-by shooting of a 20-year-old woman who was riding in a car with rival gang members in Montecito Heights. Figueroa, whose gang nickname was “Listo,” was also being sought in the shooting of a 15-year-old girl in a Monterey Hills apartment building in June, police said.

An unidentified tipster led investigators to the apartment in the 14900 block of Burbank Boulevard at about 8:20 a.m. When officers identified themselves to a woman who answered the door, they saw Figueroa flee to a rear bedroom and close the door behind him.

“Then they heard a single shot,” said Lt. Anthony Alba, a Los Angeles Police Department spokesman.

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Although initial police scanner reports indicated officers were closing in on a murder suspect, an LAPD officer at the scene tried to persuade Figueroa he was wanted only on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon.

“He took his own life, probably because he knew the real reason the officers were there,” Alba said.

Figueroa had prior felony convictions for assault with a deadly weapon in 1993 and unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon in 1995. He was sentenced to a total of 56 months in state prison for those offenses, according to prosecutors and police.

Figueroa, “one of the shot-callers” of the Rose Hills Gang, vowed to friends that he would never go back to prison, according to the LAPD’s Det. Bill Eagleson, supervisor of Hollenbeck’s anti-gang unit. Figueroa, a tattooed man who weighed 200 pounds, stood 6 feet tall and belied another of his street names: “Lil’ Ronnie.”

Police said Figueroa had been released from state prison last spring, but was deemed a fugitive after he failed to check in with his parole officer.

In July, the Los Angeles district attorney’s office issued an arrest warrant for Figueroa on two counts of assault with a deadly weapon and one count of shooting into an inhabited dwelling. In the predawn hours of May 25, Figueroa allegedly shot into a car packed with members of the rival Eastlake Gang as they waited at a stoplight at Reynolds and Mercury avenues. A single bullet struck Lisette Meza, 20, of East Los Angeles in the chest, killing her.

Police also suspect Figueroa and a fellow gang member on June 14 had fired at least 25 rounds into an apartment in the 3800 block of Monterey Road, where members of another rival group--the Avenue Gang from Highland Park--were having a party. A 15-year-old girl was severely wounded as she and 12 other party-goers inside the apartment dove for cover.

“This guy was very active with the gang,” said another police source, who asked not to be identified. “As soon as we got into the apartment [Wednesday], we could see Rose Hill paraphernalia all over.”

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During Wednesday morning’s raid, Eagleson said he tried to persuade Figueroa to surrender, but he said the reputed gang leader was intractable.

“We held our ground outside the room and I told him that I wanted to talk about the shooting on Monterey Road,” Eagleson said.

“He said, ‘That’s nothing--I know you want me for the murder of that girl.’ ”

“I said, ‘I just want to talk about one thing--I’ve got paper on one thing. Let’s talk about Monterey Road and we’ll worry about everything else later.’ ”

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Minutes went by without any sound from the bedroom. Then Eagleson said, “I heard a muffled, but very distinctive gunshot.”

About three hours later, LAPD’s special weapons unit kicked in the locked bedroom door and found Figueroa dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. A .45-caliber pistol--the same caliber used in the May and June shootings--was found near his body, Eagleson said.

Police evacuated about 30 people around the apartment where Figueroa had barricaded himself, including 23 children from the ABC Little School Preschool directly across the street. Also evacuated was Rick Haitz, who lives next door to the suicide scene.

Haitz described frequent loud late-night parties attended by scores of young men with shaved heads ever since he and his family had moved into their apartment two months ago.

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“They always had that attitude like they can do anything they want,” Haitz said. “We’re constantly living in fear of gang retaliation.”


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