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Community mourns after Wilmington shooting that killed one child, critically wounded another

A child kneels next to rows of candles set up next to a school fence
A child places a candle outside Wilmington Park Elementary School, where a 9-year-old girl was wounded Monday by a stray bullet in a shooting that killed a 12-year-old boy and injured his stepmother near the school.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

A brazen daytime shooting that left one child dead and another critically injured in a hail of bullets in Wilmington on Monday has left the community on edge and sparked outrage across L.A. as police continued their search for suspects.

Coroner’s officials on Tuesday identified Alexander Alvarado, 12, as the boy who was killed late Monday afternoon. His stepmother, in her 30s, was injured in the shooting, as was a 9-year-old girl who was playing at a nearby school, police said.

For many Wilmington parents, grief over Alexander’s death is accompanied by fear for their children’s safety.

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Alicia Baltazar was among more than 100 people who attended a vigil Tuesday night. She told The Times her son attended middle school with the victim.

“I had interaction with that child because I do art with our community and I’ve been a parent volunteer since [my son’s] been in kindergarten,” Baltazar said. “I did know that student’s family, and I’m really hurt by what happened.”

She was grateful that her son has been attending school online and said she couldn’t imagine how Alexander’s death is affecting the students who go to class in person.

And she fears the day her son will have to do the same.

“This has heightened my fear of letting him walk to school,” she said. “I’m like, ‘OK, absolutely no way are you walking to or from school now.’”

Los Angeles school police and school officials talk in front of Wilmington Park Elementary on Tuesday
Los Angeles school police and school officials talk in front of Wilmington Park Elementary on Tuesday, a day after a 9-year-old girl was hit by a stray bullet in a shooting that killed a 12-year-old boy and injured his stepmother.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Police officials on Tuesday gave further details about the shooting and relationship between the victims. They also highlighted worrying trends in violent crime, which remains below historical highs but has seen recent increases.

In a meeting of the Los Angeles Police Commission, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said Alexander was in a car with his stepmother and his 10-year-old brother when multiple gunmen opened fire on the vehicle. The younger brother was in a rear seat, Moore said, and was not struck.

The 9-year-old girl was struck while on a playground during an after-school program at Wilmington Park Elementary School, officials said.

LAPD Capt. Adrian Gonzalez, commander of the South Bureau’s Homicide Division, said investigators don’t yet know what motivated the shooting and “have not established [it] as being anything having to do with any gang ties at this time.”

Shortly before the shooting, Alexander’s stepmother picked up his 10-year-old brother and drove around the block before stopping on East Denni Street for unknown reasons, Gonzalez said.

“We’re not sure if they were waiting for someone, but that’s when they were attacked,” he said.

After the shooting, the stepmother drove a short distance away, stopping at North Eubank Avenue near East Anaheim Street, where she and the boys were found.

Moore called the shooting “tragic” and said it was part of a broader increase in gun violence in the last two years — and particularly since last month.

Twenty-seven people were shot in the city in the last week, including 19 just over the weekend, Moore said.

Wilmington residents hold a candlelight vigil for three people who were shot near Wilmington Park Elementary School
Wilmington residents hold a candlelight vigil for three people who were shot near Wilmington Park Elementary School on Monday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

As of Saturday, 361 people had been killed in L.A. this year, compared with 317 at the same point last year, Moore said. The city has not seen so many homicides in a single year since 2008, which ended with 384 killings, and killings this year are up nearly 50% over 2019.

The Wilmington area has seen 10 homicides in the last year. Gang violence in the area has declined markedly over the last three decades, but Wilmington and Harbor Gateway remain the most violent parts of the LAPD’s Harbor Division. The division has seen 21 homicides in 2021 compared with 17 last year. Violent crime is up 8.2%, while property crime is down 4.4%. Shootings across the Harbor Division are up by 20% from last year but below the levels in 2019 by 14%.

Moore also highlighted a separate incident Monday night in which two 25-year-old men were killed when gunmen opened fire on a trailer in Broadway-Manchester. Both of the men appeared to be living in the trailer at a homeless encampment; Moore said the shooting seemed to be a “very targeted” attack.

Between that shooting and the one in Wilmington, nearly 100 rounds were fired, Moore said, adding that both incidents reflected a troubling increase of firearms on the streets of L.A. in recent years and the willingness of criminals to use them.

The chief said “easily dozens” of bullet casings from at least two different caliber firearms were recovered from the scene in Wilmington, indicating multiple gunmen opened fire and a level of intent on their part to cause substantial harm.

“The amount of rounds that were fired is indicative that this was purposeful,” Moore said. “This was a brazen assault in the middle of the day.”

He also said one of the guns “was a very powerful one by the nature of the casings we’ve recovered,” but he declined to specify the type of weapon.

Moore said Alexander’s stepmother was shot in the stomach, and he believed Alexander was shot in the head. The stepmother was stable at a hospital Tuesday afternoon, he said.

Moore said preliminary information suggests the girl at Wilmington Park Elementary was shot in the back.

The chief said he was limited in what he could say about what remained an active investigation Tuesday evening, but he was confident that those responsible would be arrested based on evidence already gathered and information from community members “shocked by this terrible assault and senseless violence.”

He expected more information to be made available Wednesday.

Moore said the office of Councilman Joe Buscaino, whose district includes Wilmington, made additional resources available so the Los Angeles Police Department could spend additional overtime to ramp up patrols and investigative efforts in the area. Staffers from the Mayor’s Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development were also in the neighborhood to ensure that the shooting doesn’t lead to retaliatory violence.

Grief counselors were also working out of Wilmington Park Elementary.

Moore said the LAPD will continue to prioritize homicide and shooting cases to combat the rise in both categories of crime since last year.

Those increases “are real,” he said, and can’t be ignored.

“While we still are seeing crime rates pale in comparison to perhaps 20 or 30 years ago, we’ve lost a substantial amount of ground when it comes to homicides and shooting victims,” he said.

Moore also said that “every corner of the city has to have some police coverage” and that police resources are also being put toward crimes such as the recent series of “follow-home” robberies, in part because those incidents often turn violent.

Elected officials join residents of Wilmington in a candlelight vigil for three people
Elected officials join residents of Wilmington in a candlelight vigil for three people who were shot near Wilmington Park Elementary School.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

For some residents, the shooting in Wilmington underscored the need for more attention to violence in the harbor area.

When Guadalupe Meza heard about the shooting, she couldn’t help but think of her 18-year-old grandson, who was shot to death near his home in September of last year.

“The violence continues,” she thought after she got the news of the latest fatal shooting, just blocks from her home.

Meza, 74, said her grandson Jesse Adrian Meza was studious and had just graduated from high school. He was shot while in a parked vehicle with his cousin, who was also killed.

“Why does this keep happening?” she asked in Spanish.

Meza said her community is largely forgotten and blames “government officials who don’t help the neighborhood.”

“They need to do something to stop all of this,” she added.

“I am horrified by the gun violence that hit the Wilmington community this evening,” L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who represents Wilmington, said in a statement Monday night. “This is such a tragedy. Gun violence has destroyed too many lives in this country and tonight it has terrorized another community. I am praying for the family of this little boy and for the recovery of the little girl and young woman.”

Buscaino said that the community was in mourning and that parks and playgrounds should be safe havens for families.

“No one should be a victim of violence, especially children,” he said. “Los Angeles must become a city better equipped to protect our most vulnerable, and a city better equipped to hold to account those who would commit such heinous acts.”

A crowd of about 100 people gathered Tuesday night near the school for a vigil organized by the councilman and police representatives.

Members of Alexander’s family were invited but did not attend.

Buscaino said the city has “overcorrected” in its changes to policing and criminal justice in recent years.

“We no longer have gang injunctions, no cash bail, and we don’t seem to prosecute anyone,” he said.

Buscaino, who is a former LAPD officer and current mayoral candidate, said he was working with community members to surround campuses to create safer passages for students and parents.

After statements by police, school officials and anti-gun-violence advocates, the crowd walked around the campus, holding up lighted candles.

Families and children filled the crowd, and two women prayed a rosary while walking.

Steven Alefosio was among them, holding his sleeping 3-year-old son in one arm and a candle in the other.

“I felt bad because I have my own kids that are about the same age [as Alexander] too,” he said.


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