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‘Brazen assault in the middle of the day’ leaves a boy dead, a neighborhood shaken

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)

Alexander Alvarado did not live to see his teens. A blast of gunfire Monday afternoon saw to that.

Had he made it to Christmas week, Alexander would have turned 13. Instead, the boy was shot to death outside of an elementary school in Wilmington, a port neighborhood filled with industry, working-class families and gang problems that ebb and flow like the tides.

His stepmother was injured, too. A fourth-grade girl also received a gunshot wound in the late-afternoon incident; she was hit by a stray bullet as she watched her brother play kickball on the playground of Wilmington Park Elementary during an after-school program called Beyond the Bell.

Law enforcement officials have not identified the woman, who is in her 30s, or the 9-year-old girl. Both were taken to nearby hospitals, where they remained Tuesday. The Los Angeles Police Department has neither apprehended suspects nor divulged a motive — though they have suggested that the sheer volume of shell casings recovered from the scene indicated a purposeful attack.

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“At first I thought it was fireworks,” said Jackcel Fonseca, a classmate of the wounded girl who is also 9. Jackcel was on the playground near the girl when a bullet slammed into her little back. Teachers told the children “to run inside the cafeteria and use your Chromebook,” Jackcel said Tuesday. “I was scared, so I went on my Chromebook and watched YouTube.”

Elected officials join residents of Wilmington in a candlelight vigil
Elected officials join residents of Wilmington at the candlelight vigil on Monday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Alexander’s death compounds the horror and anger already roiling Los Angeles over a high-profile homicide in Beverly Hills on Dec. 1. And it lays bare the deep inequities that plague urban America today, as the country struggles through the second year of a global health crisis and the economy zigs and zags its way back to health.

When philanthropist Jacqueline Avant was shot to death in her Trousdale Estates home last week, former President Clinton, Oprah Winfrey and Magic Johnson, among others, tweeted their condolences. Avant’s death followed a rash of smash-and-grab robberies at tony boutiques and celebrity home-invasion robberies. Those incidents received national attention and sparked an outcry over rising crime.

The reaction to Alexander’s death has been far more subdued. It was followed by another double homicide just two hours later in an equally beleaguered neighborhood about 14 miles away, according to LAPD Chief Michel Moore. Two 25-year-old men who had been living in a homeless encampment were shot to death at 7 p.m. Monday.

Mike Lansing, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Los Angeles Harbor, said that too often, crimes committed in the neighborhoods his organization serves do not get the same outrage and attention. The group runs an after-school program at Wilmington Park Elementary.

“They get short shrift,” Lansing said.

After the attack, Lansing said, a Boys & Girls Club staff member rushed to the young girl’s side on the school playground and applied pressure on her gunshot wound to help stop the bleeding until paramedics arrived.

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

Los Angeles School police and other school officials talk
Los Angeles school police talk to school officials in front of Wilmington Park Elementary on Tuesday.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

“This was a brazen assault in the middle of the day,” he said.

During a news conference from his L.A office, Moore 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 that he believed the 12-year-old was shot in the head.

Moore said he could not share more information about how the family was positioned in the black Dodge Durango, the motives of the gunmen or if there was any sort of interaction or familiarity between the woman and the gunmen prior to the shooting.

“The amount of violence,” Moore said, “it boggles your mind, when you think about an afternoon outside of a school.” He said he expected more information on the case to be made available Wednesday.

Wilmington and the surrounding area have long been haunted by gang violence. In 2016, more than two dozen members and associates of the Wilmas street gang, who were named in a federal racketeering indictment, were arrested on suspicion of murder, attempted murder, narcotics trafficking, robbery and witness intimidation. They were also charged in a series of armed attacks on law enforcement officers dating back to 2008.

A woman drops off a young girl at school
A woman drops off a young girl at the early education building at Wilmington Park Elementary on Tuesday.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Gang violence in the region, which is part of the LAPD’s Harbor Division, has declined markedly over the last three decades. However, as in other areas throughout the country, violent crime has increased in recent years.

There have been 21 homicides so far in 2021 in the division, compared with 17 last year, a jump of 23%, according to the LAPD. Violent crime is up 8.2%, while property crime has dropped by 4.4%.

When Guadalupe Meza heard about the shooting just blocks away from her Wilmington home Monday, 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 young man also lived in Wilmington.

“The violence continues,” she thought to herself.

Meza, 74, said her grandson, Jesse Adrian Meza, was studious and had just graduated from high school. He was shot while he was 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 said.

Meza has lived in Wilmington since 1978 and said Tuesday that she has witnessed its slow decline.

“We’ve been abandoned,” she said.

A child lights a candle during a vigil
A child lights a candle during a vigil for three people who were shot near Wilmington Park Elementary School.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Assemblyman Mike Gipson (D-Carson) was touring a Boys & Girls Club facility across the street from Wilmington Park Elementary School just two hours before gunmen opened fire there.

Gipson’s district includes Wilmington, Watts and Compton, among other areas. Eighteen months ago, his son and his son’s fiancee were shot while visiting family in the Gramercy Park neighborhood of Los Angeles.

“They were innocent bystanders,” said Gipson, who has held anti-gun violence rallies and written legislation targeting so-called ghost guns. “To be at the Boys & Girls Club hours before this happened brings up those vivid memories as a parent, the horror. Your world stops.”

Gipson said he was enraged to hear about Monday’s shooting.

“Some people say, ‘Well, it happens to that community all the time,’” he said. “I want to say, I cannot get used to it. ... We have too many guns on our streets, and we have to do something to reduce the guns that people have access to.”

Mayra Zamora, who lives a block from Wilmington Park Elementary, said crime in her community had declined through the years, but recently it has escalated again.

“In the past three to four years, in Wilmington and San Pedro and Harbor City, more and more shootings are happening,” the 36-year-old said. “It’s been exacerbated by COVID. More people are home.”

Criminals, she said, “are getting more brazen. It’s happening in the afternoon. People are getting stabbed and shot in broad daylight. ...

“The neighborhood wasn’t like this a few years ago.”

During a candlelight vigil at Wilmington Park Elementary Tuesday evening, the crowd was filled with families and children.

Alicia Baltazar, who attended the event, said she knew the young boy who was killed; he went to the same middle school as her son, Jeremy Hill. Jeremy has been taking classes online, she said, for which she is eternally grateful.

“I can’t imagine how this is impacting the rest of the students,” Baltazar said, “boys and girls who had to be in class with [the victim] yesterday and not tomorrow.”

Times staff writer Christian Martinez contributed to this story.


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