A woman's screams rang out as the boys played basketball last week during recess at the Beverly Center School.
Timothy Maxon, 14, heard them first and saw a woman and a man running out of an apartment house on a side street near the schoolyard on 3rd Street near Fairfax Ave.
The man appeared to be running away, so Timothy yelled for help, he said. "That got the kids' attention," he said. "We all took off. Al, Ricardo and Ivan, with the teacher running after us, yelling 'Stop!' "
Johnson Alcindor, 17, said he caught the running man. "I grabbed him by the neck and arm and threw him on the ground. Then all of them came, grabbing him."
Ricardo Sanchez, 15, and Ivan Flores, 17, said they helped to hold the man down, while other boys formed a circle around them.
The boys' efforts earned them praise from school faculty, police and Debrah Hill, the woman whose screams they had heard.
Hill, an actress, said she was going about her mid-morning chores last Wednesday when she heard a knock at the door. She opened it, then tried to close it, but a stranger pushed his way inside. He held a knife to her throat and tore her blouse, she said.
"When he looked at me and said, 'If you don't be quiet I'm going to kill you,' at that point I knew he was going to do it. That's when I elbowed him in the ribs and pushed myself forward.
"I threw him against the wall. I fell against the bookcase, then grabbed hold of the door and boomeranged myself out.
"When I turned, he was coming out the door. I hadn't realized how close he was. I ran down the hallway, then downstairs. I was too scared to knock on my neighbor's door to see if anyone was home.
"I was screaming. When I got to the street, the kids came running up. They circled around him, put him on the ground.
"I have always thought, I must protect myself," Hill said. "I always hear of people just walking away (when someone is being attacked). But it worked out. People came. They defended me, protected me. Something so terrible happened, but something good came out of it."
"When I came around the corner I saw three kids holding a guy down," said Los Angeles Police Officer Craig Bushey.
He said there was one boy on each arm and one on the man's legs.
Lafayette Cornelius Thomas, 42, was booked on charges of burglary, assault with a deadly weapon and residential robbery. Bail was set at $30,000. He will be arraigned next Thursday in Los Angeles Municipal Court.