The trouble started with an egg hurled from a car window in Watts on Sunday.
It escalated with a bullet splintering through a stained-glass window of a Watts church, where Dolores Allen was walking down the aisle after choir practice Monday night.
The egg missed its mark.
The bullet found one.
In what one detective described as a "Hatfield-McCoy problem," a rolling, shoot-'em-up feud among more than a dozen relatives in the Watts area spilled over into the sanctuary of the Union Baptist Church, where Allen, 42, was fatally wounded in the head by a stray bullet from the fracas, which she knew nothing about, half a block away.
"It's hard to believe," said Detective Verne King of the Los Angeles Police Department's South Bureau CRASH (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums) anti-gang unit. "Not even in God's house," he noted, is one safe from the gang-related skirmishes rumbling down city streets.
'Good Christian Woman'
Dolores Allen was a "nice good Christian woman" who took scrupulous care of her two sons and her preschool daughter, said neighbor Rosetta Rodriguez, who used to baby-sit for the girl.
Sunday, for Dolores Allen, was a day for church.
But for someone else a couple of miles from Allen's yellow stucco house, it was a day to get even.
"It seems like Sunday is when it started--over an egg," King said.
The members of two large and loosely linked Watts-area families--people who have grown up together--had had a falling-out, and on Sunday, someone driving by one young woman's house tossed an egg at her.
It missed and fell unbroken to the grass. She picked it up and threw it back, splattering the car. One man got out of the car and beat her up.
Looking for Revenge
Not long after, one of the woman's relatives went looking for revenge, and he found it.
By 8:20 p.m. Monday, the see-saw battle had exploded into an armed set-to at 110th Street and Wilmington Avenue, where shots were exchanged.
One bullet flew down 110th Street, to the Union Baptist Church, where choir practice was ending. There are six choirs at the popular church, a deacon said, and Dolores Allen's group met on alternate Monday nights.
The bullet pierced the dense black metal mesh over the stained-glass window with the cross. It slammed into Dolores Allen's brain as she walked down the aisle toward the door.
She died 13 hours later at Martin Luther King Jr.-Drew Medical Center. And even as she lay dying, King said, the feuding group--some of them alleged former gang members--reconvened in the hospital parking lot. One of their number had been shot and wounded in one of the evening's earlier scuffles, and had been taken to the hospital, so that is where they took their battle, King explained.
They scattered when police showed up, King said. But they left behind a 9-millimeter Luger pistol, an Uzi, and one relative--now in custody on a weapons charge--who in his haste to get away ran in front of a friend's car and was injured.
"We've got several pieces of the puzzle out there, and we're trying to put them all together," King said, adding that there are no suspects in the slaying. "This is a cast of characters who have allowed something like an egg to reach (this) boiling point."
Shots Still Being Fired
The rolling fight had not ceased by late Tuesday, the detective said. Shots were still being fired, houses were still being "cased," phones were ringing with threats.
But for Dolores Allen's family and fellow churchgoers, the fight they never heard of stopped abruptly when she died.
"We're still trying to deal with it," said Leo Johnson, a deacon of the 58-year-old church.
A family friend, who said Allen "was like a sister to me," said Allen would have agreed with her--"We are safe in the house of God, because we are going to be born again."
There are myriad strange stories of murder that make their way around these bullet-strafed streets. Some of them are about women shot and killed in churches. A neighbor of Allen's said she heard about such a killing 10 years back. A man living across the street from Allen's church--a man whose own son was knifed to death by a stranger--recalled one 25 years ago, on 102nd Street, where a woman was killed by a stray bullet as she knelt in prayer.
And now Dolores Allen. . . .