Nowadays, whenever there is a sudden noise on the 3700 block of East Hubbard Street--a loud bang, a shout, even schoolchildren yelling on the sidewalk--neighbors go warily to their lawns. No one has forgotten the sounds they heard last Aug. 31st--and what they meant.
"We're more aware that anything could happen," Jaime Burgoin said.
On that hot August morning, around 9 o'clock, Night Stalker suspect Richard Ramirez ran crazily onto Hubbard Street, half a dozen police cars and a helicopter in pursuit. What ensued was a 20-second war--citizens versus desperate fugitive. The incident ended with Ramirez pummelled into submission on a curb side, and it turned the quiet, tree-lined lane in East Los Angeles, and its private, circumspect neighbors, into instant headlines.
"The Street of Heroes," it was dubbed.
Walls Became Shrines
Overnight, three Hubbard Street families--the De La Torres, the Burgoins and the Pinons--found themselves being whisked about in government cars from one civic celebration to another, hobnobbing with Mayor Tom Bradley on one day, shaking hands with Gov. George Deukmejian on another.
Walls inside their small homes became shrines to the event. Filigreed scrolls and lacquered plaques from the state Legislature, the City of Los Angeles, the county Board of Supervisors and a host of other agencies hang as fancy reminders of that chilling day, amid worn couches and gold-painted plaster vases with plastic flower arrangements and fading snapshots from Mexico.
"I felt honored" talking to the governor, Jose Burgoin said humbly. A retired construction worker and the widowed father of eight, Burgoin said, "I never expected to meet him."
Although the official hoopla has subsided, there are signs--subtle and stark--that life among the "heroes" has not returned to normal.
No One Touches Mustang
Gawkers still come. No one asks any more "just to touch" the fiery red Mustang in Faistino Pinon's driveway, one of the cars Ramirez allegedly tried to steal as Pinon fought him off. But each week, several vehicles creep by the spot where the man suspected in a terrifying series of nighttime killings was captured.
"A man from Colorado came last week and pressed his face to my screen door, and I said the De La Torres don't live here anymore," recalled Angelina De La Torre, who proudly displayed a congratulatory letter, in Spanish, from Archbishop Rogelio (Roger) Mahony, in a special brown leather folder in her bedroom.
There are the good things--the lingering headiness of their new celebrity status that causes neighbors to stop them in the streets. It makes some of them blush. "I don't really feel like a hero; it's all over now," Faistino Pinon said.
And there are darker reminders.
Even today, when Manuel De La Torre, 32, speaks about that August morning, his fists tighten around an imaginary steel rod and he whacks the air with angry blows.
Ramirez dashed down East Hubbard and allegedly attempted to steal two cars, beating the driver of one, De La Torre's wife, in the process. De La Torre and several neighbors gave chase, and the angry husband used a narrow post from a chain-link fence to bloody Ramirez's head before police arrived.
Amber, the De La Torre's 3-year-old daughter, will not play out front any longer and cries when she see policemen. Amber watched as Ramirez allegedly beat her mother to the pavement while trying to wrest car keys from her hand. "From that day, baby Amber doesn't go into the yard and the neighbors ask why," said Angelina De La Torre, who took tranquilizers for eight days after the incident. "I still to this day don't know how I fought back," she said. "I had huge bruises all over me, but I don't even remember him hitting me."
Angelina De La Torre said she feels "more peace than pride now. I'm just glad he's caught."
Held Without Bail
Ramirez is being held without bail in Los Angeles County Jail, charged with 14 murders and 54 other felonies in Los Angeles. He has pleaded not guilty, and a preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled to begin Feb 24. The alleged Night Stalker also faces murder and other charges in San Francisco and Orange County.
Two weeks ago, the Burgoins and the Pinons began receiving telephone threats late at night. A woman identifying herself as "a relative of Ricardo's" called several times, said Faistino Pinon, 56, and his wife, Reynalda, 47. They said the woman told the family, "You're all going to pay for what you did" because "I know for a fact (Ramirez) is innocent."
Faistino Pinon said the caller added, "I know what your truck looks like and when you go to work."
The calls so upset the Pinon's teen-age daughter, Tina, that her father slept on the living room couch for several nights, rifle by his side. The intrusions stopped after police were notified and, at their suggestion, both families disconnected their telephones.
Still, "sometimes I dream the Night Stalker is trying to get in," said Tina, 15.