As Christine Darlene Calderon strolled down Hollywood’s Walk of Fame with her coworker just after sunset Tuesday, an amusing cardboard sign caught her eye.
She pulled out her cellphone to snap a picture of men displaying signs asking for money with four-letter insults and a smiley face.
Moments later, according to a law enforcement sources, one of the men demanded that she pay $1 for the pictures.
When she refused, police say, two of the men allegedly pinned Calderon’s coworker against a wall.
The third jumped on top of Calderon, knocking the 23-year-old onto the pavement in front of an American Eagle Outfitters clothing store at Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, police said.
When she got up to run away, authorities said, blood was gushing from a stab wound in her midsection.
She collapsed a few feet from the terrazzo Walk of Fame stars. She was pronounced dead at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center three hours later.
Her death in the heart of Hollywood’s tourist district stunned visitors and the collection of merchants and costumed impersonators who work along the boulevard.
Los Angeles police detained two men near the crime scene at midnight and a third man was arrested hours later on suspicion of murder. Police described the men, believed to be between 27 and 34 years old, as transients and said one of them was known to frequent the Hollywood area.
Two others were believed to have come from out of state. Police were interviewing witnesses and have yet to determine a motive for the slaying.
Family members said Calderon knew the Hollywood area and sometimes hung out there with friends.
Her mother, Yolonde Tassin, said she had a feeling something was wrong when Calderon stopped responding to text messages Tuesday night.
So when she opened the door of her Lynwood home Wednesday morning and saw the look in the detectives’ eyes, she knew.
“I said, ‘My daughter’s dead isn’t she?’ ” Tassin said. “And he gave me a slight nod.”
Tassin sighed as she shuffled through pictures of her daughter Wednesday. There was the one of her at Magic Mountain as a child. And lots of her opening presents on Dec. 25 — her birthday.
“We always celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve,” Tassin said. “Christine would always have her special day on Christmas.”
After a tumultuous few years during which she had been estranged from her mother, Calderon had completed her GED and begun to turn her life around. She stopped drinking and doing drugs, Tassin said, and a few days ago she went to El Camino Community College to register for classes.
“Her plan was to become an engineer,” Tassin said, fighting back tears. “She didn’t want to waste years. She wanted to get in there and do it right.”
Despite the tourist attractions and upscale stores at Hollywood & Highland, people who work in the area say it still has a grittier side.
From his kiosk near the crime scene, Ethan Lam heard screams echo from the iconic intersection where throngs of tourists pour out of the Metro’s underbelly every day to snap photos of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, actors dressed as Chewbacca and Spider-Man, and the Hollywood sign.
Lam ran toward the noise, where a crowd had gathered around Calderon on Tuesday night. She was wearing jeans and a white top, Lam recalled, adding that he saw several people clutching her stomach to try to stop the bleeding. When paramedics showed up, he said, her shirt was soaked red.
“It was right there, man,” Lam said Wednesday afternoon as he pointed to a few maroon droplets dried onto the store’s wall.
Victor Guererro, a 25-year-old Mickey Mouse impersonator, said he has seen it all during the year and half he has worked on the Walk of Fame.
There have been fights and arrests, he said, adding that a few days ago he saw a homeless man grilling carne asada on a camping stove and selling tacos.
“Hay tanta locura,” he said. “There’s so much madness.”
Times staff writer Joseph Serna contributed to this report