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Hollywood Boulevard workers recall frantic scene during robberies

It was about 8:30 p.m. when Jose Rosales noticed several people running by his Hollywood Boulevard shop.

When he went to check what was going on, he saw a teenage boy shoving a wad of T-shirts into a backpack. Rosales sensed that something was wrong and immediately started to lock up the camera and musical instrument shop for the night.

“I just saw people run up and down the boulevard in groups and police followed them,” he said.

CRIME DATABASE: Track crime in Hollywood

As he locked up the store Tuesday night, he noticed some of the teenagers peeking into his storefront — cameras, electric guitars and stereo systems line the walls.

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“They were saying, ‘Wow,’ ” he said. “But by then police were already chasing them.”

“But it’s a good thing I closed,” Rosales said, shaking his head.

Twelve people — all juveniles, except for one 18-year-old — were arrested Tuesday after a roving group of robbers roamed Hollywood Boulevard, stealing from tourists and storefronts, police say.

Los Angeles police flooded the area after receiving at least eight robbery calls beginning about 8:30 p.m., officials said. Many suspects were apprehended in minutes, but others took off running down Hollywood streets, splintering into smaller groups and regrouping.

During a roughly two-hour rampage, robbers knocked down tourists and grabbed their phones, and stole souvenirs and food from stores, officials said. In at least one incident, they hauled off a cash register from a business.

A massive cat-and-mouse game ensued, with police and media helicopters hovering overhead. About half a dozen suspects were arrested in the 6300 block of Hollywood Boulevard and another group was caught at Romaine Street and Western Avenue, police told The Times.

An investigation into the incident — including whether it was planned or promoted via social media — is ongoing. Police said the group could include as many as 50 suspects. LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith told reporters Wednesday that officials plan to release photos in the coming days in hopes of tracking down more suspects.

Witnesses described a frantic scene the night before.

By a little after 9 p.m. Tuesday, Corbin Williams heard screams outside the smoke shop where he works near the subway station at Hollywood and Vine.

He saw a crew of about seven teenage boys — one carrying a backpack and a couple others wearing beanies — running west along Hollywood Boulevard.

“They were running around and screaming,” he said, adding that he remembers checking for the bat he keeps behind the counter. “It was young kids trying to stir it up.”

At a mini market a few shops down, an employee who only wanted to be identified by his first name, Jason, said he scrambled to lock up after he spotted a pack of about 30 people tearing down the boulevard.

“I closed. I could see they were going to hurt people,” he said, adding that when he came out of the shop a few minutes later he noticed a startled family sitting on the sidewalk.

During the scramble, the crew had trampled into the family and knocked over a toddler, he said.

As tourists watched the scene unfold from a different souvenir shop across the street, owner Don Choi called the police and told customers to wait inside as the commotion settled.

“One of the ladies, she was kind of scared,” Choi said. “She was not from around here.”

Muso Jabour, who sells tours for Hollywood Celebrity Tours, said he was working along the boulevard about 11 p.m.

“They were busting people on every corner,” he said. “It was crazy. It was insane.”

Shop owners were frantically pulling down their gates, he said.

“It was a little scary,” he said. “We had 15 cop cars trailing behind each other like trains.”

Investigators are also looking into whether the group was made up of some of the same youths who attacked people and vandalized stores in the Crenshaw district earlier this week, when demonstrators protested the George Zimmerman murder trial verdict. Zimmerman was acquitted Saturday in Florida in the slaying of Trayvon Martin.

After Monday’s protests, the LAPD deployed hundreds of officers to monitor Tuesday’s demonstrations in downtown and Leimert Park. Smith said the robbery suspects may have recognized that the LAPD’s attention would be shifted to South Los Angeles.

“What we’re thinking is these youngsters took advantage of our redeployment of officers down to the Crenshaw district last night and decided that this would be a good night to come up to Hollywood and act a little crazy,” he said.

As Smith and other officials spoke to reporters Wednesday along the Walk of Fame, camera-touting tourists weaved around the news cameras to get a peek at the action.

“Who’s getting a star today?” one woman asked. A teenage boy tapped his father’s shoulder and pointed at the swarm: “Look at all these cameras. Must be someone famous.”

Bodiel Andersen, a tourist from Norway who spent the morning exploring Hollywood with her son and husband, said she assumed the commotion had some tie to Zimmerman’s acquittal Saturday.

“I read there’s been lots of protests in L.A.,” she said, adding that she still felt safe in Hollywood after listening in to some of the news conference.

“I guess if there was a problem yesterday, today is the most safe day to be here,” she said, pointing to a pack of policeman standing nearby.

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marisa.gerber@latimes.com

kate.mather@latimes.com


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