The 7-year-old boy shot dead Monday in Compton lived in what law enforcement officials said is a gang hangout that had been the scene of two other shootings this month, including a killing two weeks before the child's slaying.
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Lt. Bob Rifkin, an anti-gang officer, said the boy's house and an adjacent house also owned and occupied by family members serve as "a crash pad for known gang members." Family members denied they were involved with gangs.
Artemus Blount, 74, the dead boy's grandmother, said she does not know what prompted the shooting. "I don't think there was gangbanging here," Blount said. "I know my 7-year-old baby had not done anything. I don't feel safe here. They killed three of my grandkids."
She was referring to Darryl Dewayne "Kactus" White, 19, who was shot to death as he walked near the house Nov. 27. White's younger brother, Damar White, 18, was shot to death in front of the house Jan. 2. No arrests have been made in connection with the slayings.
The dead boy, Horace Ray Ferguson Jr., known as "Ray Ray" to relatives, was shot repeatedly when he stood in his frontyard Monday morning, as occupants of the houses fought a gun battle with three men who had driven up in a white Ford Bronco, police said. The boy died Monday afternoon.
Sheriff's officials said the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services has an open investigation connected to the residence, but did not know whether the slain child is the subject of the inquiry.
Sheriff's deputies have been called to the houses, in the 14500 block of South Harris Avenue, at least 27 times in the last two years, records show. Deputy Christopher Johnson of the sheriff's Compton station said most of the calls were for domestic disturbances. At least three calls were for possible drug sales, and one drug possession arrest was made in November 2001, Johnson said.
Blount, matriarch of the extended family of 11 who share the two houses, said she was the legal guardian of Ray Ray. Blount said she also cares for five grandchildren and great-grandchildren -- another 7-year-old, two 12-year-olds and two teenagers.
Four other adults, including Ray Ray's father, Horace Ray Ferguson, 49, live in the houses, said Peggy Buckhalter, 45, Ray Ray's aunt. Buckhalter, a secretary for the Long Beach Unified School District, who owns one of the houses but lives in another house nearby, said her family is law-abiding.
Ray Ray's death followed another shooting two days before -- the same day as the funeral of Damar White, the family member killed Jan. 2.
Trayvon Townsend, 19, was arrested on suspicion of firing a shotgun from the yard of one of the houses and endangering a child, Rifkin said. Rifkin said the allegedly endangered child was not Ray Ray.
Law enforcement sources said that members of an African American gang use the house and that the shootings may be part of a rivalry between that gang and a Latino gang.
Buckhalter said she thinks the Latino gang might be behind the shootings, but denied her relatives are linked to gangs. She said the family might have been targeted for covering up the gang's graffiti in the neighborhood.
Blount said she took custody of Ray Ray because the child's mother was a crack addict. She said the child was a happy boy who enjoyed playing his Xbox video game, but had to repeat first grade. Blount said she believed Ray Ray's learning ability was hampered by his mother's drug use during pregnancy.
Sheriff's records show that the Department of Children and Family Services visited the location in October 2000 but did not find reason to remove any children, Johnson said.
Johnson said he could not disclose what prompted the visit or which child might have been involved.
Agency spokeswoman Patricia Martesic said the department cannot disclose information on child dependency cases without a court order.
Martesic said the Department of Children and Family Services can remove a child from a home if family members are abusing or neglecting a child. She said police, teachers and doctors are required by law to report suspected abuse or neglect to the department.
Johnson said sheriff's records do not show whether deputies ever called the agency as a result of their visits to the houses.