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Boy’s Slaying in ‘Good’ Area Stuns Family

TIMES STAFF WRITER

They might have looked like just another group of joy-riding teens out for the night in their parents’ cars as they sped through a hilly Encino neighborhood in a Mercedes sedan and Jeep Cherokee.

That may be how the evening began, but by the next day the vehicles had been impounded as getaway cars and the boys who had been cruising in them had become murder suspects. Now a community is struggling to make sense of a senseless crime: the stabbing death of 17-year-old Abtin Tangestanifar.

A popular student at Taft High School in Woodland Hills, Tangestanifar was randomly attacked by half a dozen gang members and their associates as he left a “Sweet 16" birthday party at a million-dollar Encino home.

“You have 125 kids here who are, for the most part, very straight at a supervised party and everything is fine,” Los Angeles Police Det. Rick Swanston said. “Then boom, six or eight guys show up and you have an instant tragedy.”

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Horrified onlookers heard the youths shout “Jef Rox,” the name of a gang that locally includes some Armenian members, as they beat and stabbed Tangestanifar. The May 31 attack has devastated the boy’s family and friends, an estimated 700 of whom attended his funeral June 5 at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills.

‘It Makes Me Feel Sad’

His killing marks the third time in recent years that gang members have slain an innocent victim during a party in the West Valley, including the 1993 shooting death of Thomas Myers and the March 1997 stabbing death of Jason Shaw.

“It makes me feel sad,” said Ralph Myers, whose son, Tom, was slain by a gang member when he stepped into the line of fire at a party in Canoga Park. “Kids can’t just grow up and have fun without fear of someone killing them or hurting them for no apparent reason.”

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Like Myers and Shaw, Tangestanifar had faced life much differently than he faced death.

At school, he was well known among the more than 500 Persian students who attend Taft, many of them now so grief-stricken that they have been undergoing counseling and cutting classes since his slaying. At home, he was a loving son and older brother who understood the sacrifices his parents made when they decided to leave Iran and move the family to America in hope of a better life--a decision they now regret.

“The party was in a good area in a good house with a good family,” said Parvin Tangestanifar, Abtin’s mother. “We never thought something like this was going to happen over there.”

She recalled how on the night of the party the teen had kissed her and her husband goodbye as he left the family’s modest Tarzana apartment, promising that he would be back soon. It was a promise they never thought he would break.

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According to police accounts, the birthday bash was being thrown in honor of twin sisters who are friends of the teenage girl who lives at the Medley Drive address where the party was held. Formal invitations had been sent to 75 guests, but, as word of the gathering spread, the number of teenagers grew to as many as 125.

Most kids at the party were students from either Taft or three private Armenian schools, two of which are in the San Fernando Valley. Although there were more guests than expected, the event went smoothly until about midnight, when a group of teenage boys drove up in three vehicles, including a white Mercedes-Benz sedan, a burgundy Jeep Cherokee and a black Mitsubishi.

Uninvited Guests

According to Swanston, it appears the boys were asked to leave the party after they got into an argument with another guest. Instead, they lingered on the sidewalk in front of the house near a gate that led to the backyard.

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When Tangestanifar walked through the gate with some friends about 10 minutes later, he was jumped by the gang members and their friends.

“They just grabbed a kid coming out of the party,” Swanston said. “They pretty much descended on him.”

During the attack the boys were overheard shouting “Jef Rox,” the name of a gang that is made up primarily of Filipinos and that originated in the Los Angeles neighborhood bordered by Melrose and Western avenues and Beverly Boulevard. Jef Rox is a gang version of the word jeproks, a slang Filipino term used to describe someone who is laid back and street smart.

According to sources, the gang had recently gone multiethnic and had been attracting Korean members. An Armenian faction had also apparently evolved in the Chatsworth and Granada Hills area. Police believe five of Tangestanifar’s six attackers were Armenian and that some were Jef Rox members.

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“There was chest-pounding machismo going on, I guess,” said LAPD Det. Andrew Purdy. “You know how gangs are. It doesn’t take much for them to take offense. They’re predators.”

After stabbing Tangestanifar several times in the chest, the boys fled the scene that by then had been engulfed in chaos. Tangestanifar was rushed to Northridge Hospital Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

Back in Tarzana, his parents sensed something was horribly wrong. Midnight had passed and their son was still not home. Police confirmed their suspicions when they called the family and requested that they drive over to the West Valley police station.

At the station, the hunt for Tangestanifar’s killers had begun.

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Party-goers were able to provide homicide detectives with good descriptions of the getaway cars and, according to Swanston, some kids knew the identity of one of the main attackers. One boy was seen fleeing the scene with a knife in his hand.

Police nabbed two of the suspects later in the day during a stakeout at an upper-middle-class home in Northridge. About 2:30 p.m., two other boys were taken into custody as they pulled up in the white Mercedes at a home in a comfortable Chatsworth neighborhood.

The suspects arrested May 31 included two 17-year-olds from Northridge, a 16-year-old from Chatsworth and a 16-year-old from Granada Hills.

A 17-year-old from Calabasas turned himself into police two days later. A sixth suspect, a 17-year-old Van Nuys boy was arrested at his family’s home the following day.

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All of the boys face murder and assault charges, and prosecutors are seeking to try them as adults. While their lives hang in the balance, hundreds of others caught up in the tragedy have been forced to move on without Tangestanifar.

A Special Teenager

In many ways he was like any teenager. He had a passion for basketball and music and he loved to spend time with friends.

But he was also special. He shared a close bond not only with his parents, who confided their problems to him, but also with his 14-year-old brother, who clings to Tangestanifar’s memory by donning his clothes.

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“He wears his shoes, pants, everything,” said Khosrow Tangestanifar, the boys’ father. “It’s too big for him, but he says he wants to wear it.”

Khosrow Tangestanifar and other family members make daily pilgrimages to the cemetery to pray for the teenager and to talk to him.

“I just tell him I love him,” the father said. “He knew I loved him.”

Parvin Tangestanifar said she has experienced extremes of happiness and sadness over the outpouring of warmth that hundreds of her son’s friends have demonstrated during the past two weeks.

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Soon after his death, she said, friends began stopping by the apartment, presenting her and her husband with flowers and huge sheets of paper covered with personal notes describing how Tangestanifar had touched their lives. They have also filled a brown leather-bound book with letters to the teenager.

One read, “I saw you that night before you died. You looked so happy just to be alive. I gave you a hug and said goodbye, not knowing this would be the last time.”

“He was that kind of person,” his mother said. “If someone just saw him once they loved him.”


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