Boy, 6, critically hurt as gunfire hits family vehicle

Times Staff Writers

A 6-year-old black boy was critically wounded Tuesday when he was shot in the head by suspected Latino gang members as the victim’s family drove through the Harbor Gateway neighborhood on their way to an auto auction, Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton said.

Two Latino males flashed gang signs before opening fire on the red GMC Yukon with six people inside, including a woman who is eight months pregnant, Bratton said. The rear window of the SUV was shattered by the gunfire, and one of the rounds hit the boy in the head, he said.

The victim was rushed by paramedics to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center after the shooting, which occurred about 12:40 p.m. on 227th Street between Halldale and Denker avenues, police said. The boy was listed in critical condition.


The shooting caps several weeks of violent incidents believed to involve gangs around Los Angeles County that have sparked both fear and anger in some neighborhoods. Earlier this week, a Los Angeles High School football player was gunned down in what authorities described as an unprovoked attack by gang members. Last week, a gang member opened fire at a bus stop in South Los Angeles, wounding eight people, including five children. Before that, a gun battle between LAPD officers and gang members outside a Glassell Park school caused much of the community to be locked down for hours.

Some -- but not all -- of the incidents involved violence between blacks and Latinos.

As of Saturday night there had been 67 homicides reported in the city since Jan. 1, compared with 54 for the same period last year, an increase of 24%, according to the LAPD. But violent crime in general continues a downward trend, with 5.1% fewer incidents reported so far this year.

Police said the family of the victim in Tuesday’s shooting was not from the Harbor Gateway neighborhood, which is known for racial tensions between Latino gangs and black residents. Other passengers inside the vehicle were a man and a woman and two other children, ages 3 and 1 1/2 .

There were no other reported injuries, police said.

Police cordoned off two blocks Tuesday afternoon as they launched a massive search for the two suspects, one described as between the ages of 28 and 30, heavyset, wearing a white T-shirt and black pants; the other, between ages 16 and 20, with a shaved head and possibly a mustache, wearing blue jeans and riding a racing bicycle.

Bratton did not say whether the suspects had ties to a specific gang, but he noted that the neighborhood is home to the East Side Torrance gang. “This is an area that is under the influence of a Latino gang,” Bratton said. “You may recall that about a year or so ago, the mayor and I were engaged in a major initiative up the street at 204th Street, where there had been the shooting death of a young black woman.”

Bratton was referring to the killing of 14-year-old Cheryl Green in December 2006. Two members of the 204th Street gang allegedly shot Green as she stood talking with friends.

The suspects were later caught and charged with murder, along with a special hate crime allegation. They are still awaiting trial.

Both shootings occurred in the narrow strip of land known as Harbor Gateway, which connects the bulk of Los Angeles and the harbor communities.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa joined Bratton at an afternoon news conference to discuss the latest shooting. He noted that there had been several apparently unprovoked gang attacks in recent weeks.

“What’s been particularly disturbing is the sensational nature of some of these incidents,” Villaraigosa said. “It was people minding their own business. . . . That’s what causes even more concern. This wasn’t a gang battle.”

Josefina Salazar, 40, who lives in the neighborhood with her two children, said residents live in constant fear of gang violence.

“We worry about our security here,” she said. “But rent is so high there’s no option to go anywhere else.”

Salazar, who stood outside a house where several TV trucks were parked, said the mayor and police chief “say they’re cleaning the city up, but then things like this happen again.”

Another resident, who has lived in the neighborhood for three years and did not want to be identified, described the area as “gang infested” and pointed to the graffiti on a nearby driveway. He said his garage door also has been painted with graffiti.

“This place has no laws,” he said. The police “never come to protect. They come to collect the dead.”

The East Side Torrance and 204th Street gangs are longtime rivals. But they also are known for preying on black residents.

The shooting came a week after Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo obtained a preliminary gang injunction against 26 members of East Side Torrance and 204th Street.

The injunction bars the members from associating with one another in public within a designated Harbor Gateway “safety zone.” Violators would face up to a year in jail, said Jeff Isaacs, head of the city attorney’s criminal prosecutions.

In a declaration supporting Delgadillo’s request against East Side Torrance, LAPD Sgt. Dan Robbins said the gang frequently targeted black residents with violence, harassment and racist graffiti.

“Every black person, but in particular black males, is a potential victim of EST violence and intimidation,” wrote Robbins, the LAPD’s expert on the two gangs.

Times staff writers Sam Quinones and Daniela Perdomo contributed to this report.