A housemother for abused children was killed early Saturday morning when a stray bullet from a street-gang gunfight ripped through a Compton group home and struck her in the back, police said.
Mabelle Elam, 66, was sitting at a desk inside the white, clapboard house shortly after midnight when she was hit by a rifle bullet. She was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.
"According to witnesses, there was an eruption of gunfire between two rival gangs," said Compton Police Sgt. Ron Malachi. "We're assuming she was struck by a stray bullet."
The six children at Little People's World Inc., located at 727 S. Harris Ave., were sleeping and were not awakened by the commotion.
Runs for Help
Elam's co-worker, who was not identified, fled through the back door and jumped over a gate to seek help from neighbors. One neighbor said that she prayed aloud for Elam, a devout member of a Seventh-day Adventist church. Several people who ran to the house tried to comfort a shaking Elam as she lay sprawled on her stomach, unable to talk.
But Elam, who lived with her son in a nearby Compton neighborhood, died a short time later.
Neighbors said the trouble began two hours before the killing when members of two gangs, who were cruising along the street, began shooting at each other. About 20 shots were fired before the gang members drove off. Later, the gangs returned with what neighbors thought was more deadly firepower. Only four shots were fired the second time, neighbors said.
The shooting provoked anger and sorrow Saturday afternoon among people congregated on the sidewalks of this modest neighborhood, where fenced front yards and barred doors and windows are commonplace. All but one of the people on the street declined to be quoted by name because they feared gang retribution.
Jesse Giddens, a neighbor, picked up spent bullets near the murder scene and expressed disgust that Harris Avenue had become gang turf.
"This is ridiculous. Something needs to be done," Giddens said as he pounded a fist into a hand. "We cannot keep losing people like this."
Elam's son, Albert, and Harris Avenue residents praised the slain woman as a gentle, kind woman.
"She was a very humanitarian person, a God-fearing lady who lived by what she believed in and preached," Albert Elam said.
Police, who interviewed and released one person, said they have no suspects in the case.