Los Angeles police searched Monday for several gang members believed responsible for wounding eight teenagers at a North Hills birthday party.
About 50 youths, some as young as 13, were attending the 15th birthday celebration for a Bishop Alemany High School student Friday night when three men entered and opened fire with what witnesses said were shotguns and an assault weapon.
"They showed up and sprayed the crowd," said Det. Mike Oppelt of the Los Angeles Police Department. "We believe there were at least two shooters."
The two most seriously wounded party-goers--a 15-year-old boy and a 19-year-old man--both were shot in the head. The younger victim, a freshman at Alemany in Mission Hills, was upgraded Monday from critical to serious condition. The older victim was in fair condition. The others were treated and released.
Investigators with the LAPD Asian gang task force were trying Monday to identify the suspects, but they would not say which gang they believe may have carried out the attack in the carport of an apartment in the 15000 block of Nordhoff Street.
Some said the shooting is the latest indication that gang-related crime is becoming more lethal in some parts of the city, including the San Fernando Valley. According to LAPD figures, 584 people were killed citywide over the last year, an increase of about 6% from 2000, when 551 people were slain, and about 37% above the 1999 level. Generally, about 70% of all homicides are gang-related, police officials said.
In the busiest LAPD division in the Valley, Foothill, there were 35 killings in 2001, up from 24 the year before, because of gang-related slayings and several multiple homicides. Yet in the Devonshire division, where Friday night's shooting took place, there were 15 homicides in 2001, four fewer than the year before.
Many parents of students at Alemany High, where some of the party-goers attended school, were shocked Monday to learn of the violence. They said they had chosen the private school to protect their children, parent board President Lori Lundgren said.
"I usually don't have to worry about things like this, and that's why this was a surprise," said Lundgren, who has a son in the 11th grade at Alemany and a daughter who graduated there in 2000.
"I've been involved in Alemany for the last six years, and I've never known any of this ever to have happened ... ," Lundgren said. "There's never even a fight at Alemany."
The atmosphere on campus Monday was somber as some students attended counseling sessions and others started crying during class, said William Moussa, a freshman.
"Girls were saying they had nightmares; they kept seeing people being shot over and over," said another freshman, who declined to give his name.
He said Friday's party was supposed to celebrate the 15th birthday of a female Alemany student.
Times staff writers Massie Ritsch and Claire Luna contributed to this report.