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Wounded boy, 11, describes chaos in shooting at South L.A. taco stand

Shooting scene

Murel Polee walks past a store at 94th and Figueroa streets in South Los Angeles where three children were caught in the crossfire of a shooting in front of a taco stand Wednesday night.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

It was an ordinary scene on a Wednesday evening in South Los Angeles: a group of adults and children sitting together in front of a taco stand, grabbing a bite to eat.

From around a nearby corner came a black car with tinted windows. The vehicle stopped in the middle of the street. Suddenly, someone inside the car opened fire, sending the crowd running for cover.

An 11-year-old boy recounted Thursday how he threw himself on the ground and began to crawl toward a nearby cellphone store for safety. He felt a burning in his right hand and looked down. He had been struck by shrapnel.

As others around him were screaming, the boy heard the car’s tires screech as it sped off. He looked up and saw that one of his friends, a 13-year-old girl, was crying and screaming. She had been shot in her side.

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The 11-year-old’s father, who had been inside the cellphone business when the shooting occurred, said he ran outside and tried to comfort the girl who had been struck.

“Stay awake, stay alive,” he told the girl. “You’re going to be OK.”

The boy and his father declined to give their names.

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The shooting at 94th and Figueroa streets at around 8:40 p.m. Wednesday left three children wounded, including another 13-year-old boy who was struck by gunfire, police said.

Police said the children weren’t the gunman’s target, just standing at the wrong place at the wrong time.

“These were just kids grabbing a taco at 8 o’clock at night,” said Cmdr. Andrew Smith, an LAPD spokesman. “This is a tragic example of what happens when people disregard other peoples’ lives.”

On Thursday, police were searching for the gunman and the person they believe he was trying to shoot. Smith said investigators were looking at gang activity as a likely motivator, “but until we catch the suspect or interview the intended victim, can’t be sure.”

The shooter was described as 20 to 25 years old, wearing a black shirt and having a piercing -- some type of stud or diamond -- near his left eye, Smith said. The vehicle was described as a black, four-door Honda Civic.

Smith said investigators were talking to “anybody we can” who may have witnessed the shooting. They were also scouring the scene for forensic evidence and looking for security cameras that may have captured either the shooting or the vehicle driving in the area.

Neighbors said Thursday that they heard the gunshots the night before — one man said he heard as many as 18 — but didn’t know that children had been wounded.

“I feel very terrible about all of this,” said Riqueta Rodriguez, 79, of Mexico, who was visiting relatives who live near the taco stand. “I hope the children will be OK.”

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The two 13-year-olds were taken to a hospital for treatment. All the children were expected to survive their injuries.

For more Southern California crime news, follow @LATvives and @katemather.

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