With his first paycheck from his new job as a youth gang counselor in hand, Jerry Anthony went Christmas shopping Sunday. He bought a black leather coat downtown for his wife, then picked up a bicycle for his 3-year-old daughter at the Sears store in East Los Angeles.
By 5 p.m. he was done shopping and ready to go home. But as he was loading the bicycle into his car, two thugs accosted him. They hit him on the head, took his gifts, stuffed him into the car trunk, drove him around for a while and then abandoned the automobile with Anthony inside it.
Twelve hours later he was still locked in the trunk.
"I didn't know what the outcome was going to be," Anthony said Monday, just hours after someone had heard his screams from inside the trunk and summoned police. "I just started kicking and, thank the Lord, somebody heard me. All I was thinking about was getting out."
Anthony, 37, does not know how he will replace the stolen presents. On the other hand, he said, he feels lucky to be alive.
Anthony said he felt a gun pressed against his back as he leaned over his car in the Sears parking lot at 1400 S. Soto St. Two men in their 20s ordered him to hand over his jewelry, his wallet, his wife's new jacket and the bicycle. Then they struck him in the back of head with a blunt object and shoved him into the trunk.
As the gunmen pulled away, Anthony said they threatened to kill him if he made any noise. "They said they'd shoot me in my damn back," he recalled. "But hey, I'm a street counselor. And the advice I give is that when someone has a gun, you better go along with the program."
His kidnapers drove around for about an hour before they abandoned the car and again warned Anthony to remain quiet. Anthony said he half expected to feel the automobile sliding over the side of a cliff. He had no idea whether he was in a deserted field or the middle of town.
It was about 1 a.m., eight hours after the kidnaping occurred, that a cramped, cold and shaken Anthony started pounding on the trunk and screaming for help. Someone finally heard his screams about 5 a.m. and called police. Officers rescued him from the car, which had been abandoned on Soto Street, a block from the scene of the abduction.
"I played by the rules," said Anthony, who felt OK except for some pain from the blow on the back of the head. "That's the only reason I'm alive."
Police have no leads in the case. Lt. John Lane of the Hollenbeck Division said Anthony was the victim of a "random, opportunist type of crime" that was not gang-related. Still, Anthony said, he might have avoided trouble if he had been wearing his county Youth Gang Services badge. He expects to return to his new job soon.
On Monday, Anthony's co-workers contributed about $100 to a special Christmas fund started on his behalf. But Steve Valdivia, director of county Youth Gang Services, said Anthony will still be looking at a "lousy Christmas" since his losses totaled more than $500.
Anthony, who lives in an apartment in the Crenshaw area with his wife and two young children, said he feels most depressed when he looks at his Christmas tree. The gifts for his 8-year-old son, which were purchased earlier, are there. But his wife and daughter now have nothing.
"I'm not going to be able to replace the gifts," he said. "I guess I'm stuck."