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Gang Assault Kills Rival and 4-Year-Old Boy : 6 Hurt in Orange County Automatic Rifle Attack

September 18, 1989|STEVEN R. CHURM and JIM CARLTON | Times Staff Writers

A group of Orange County gang members in a pickup truck opened fire with a fully automatic assault rifle and another weapon on a Garden Grove family leaving for the movies, killing a teen-age rival and a 4-year-old boy and wounding six others, police said Sunday.

The attackers systematically shot at a dozen people at dusk Saturday outside a home in one of the bloodiest gang attacks in the county's history.

Killed were Miguel Navarro, 17, a warehouse clerk, and Frank Fernandez Jr., 4, whose 23-year-old mother, Irene, and 2-year-old brother, Christopher, were among those wounded. None of the injured were seriously hurt, with the exception of family friend Richard Rendon, 26, of Santa Ana, who was in critical condition with leg wounds.

Santa Ana-Based Gang

Authorities said they believe the assailants were members of a Santa Ana-based gang known as 5th Street, but they had no suspects Sunday night.

The dark-colored pickup turned onto the 13800 block of La Bonita Avenue as members of the Fernandez family, several relatives and friends talked and laughed in front of a tiny stucco house as they were entering cars to leave for the film "Lethal Weapon II."

The pickup rolled slowly by with the windows down and at least two guns blazing, witnesses said.

The sounds of gunfire were quickly replaced with screams and cries for help as the street and sidewalk were littered with bodies.

Police from Garden Grove and Santa Ana were jointly investigat ing.

"Approximately 20 rounds were fired by the attackers who obviously had no concern about who their gunfire would harm," Garden Grove Police Sgt. Dan Lyons said. "One of the guns was a fully automatic, assault-type weapon."

Neighbors who had gathered outside to chat or share a beer on the muggy night scattered as the bullets riddled several homes and cars along a 50-yard stretch of La Bonita Avenue, across the street from a Pentecostal church.

One man was under his car, working on his transmission, when the gunfire erupted.

"I just clutched my wrench and started praying," said Rodolfo Zepeda. "I just hugged the ground."

Police said Navarro was the primary target because he is a member of the 17th Street gang that was blamed by the rival 5th Street gang for a recent shooting.

Sitting in Car

Navarro, known as "Smokey" to his gang brothers, was sitting in the back seat of a black Nissan sedan parked on the street, police and witnesses said. When the shooting started, he lunged for the front seat, throwing his body over 18-year-old Inez Fernandez.

"If he hadn't shielded me, I would have been dead," said Fernandez, who was slightly injured when her neck was grazed by an errant bullet. "The truck was less than 20 feet away. Mike never had a chance."

Fernandez's 4-year-old nephew, Frank Jr., was shot several times as he stood in the back of another car parked in the family's driveway. Frank and Irene Fernandez had just put their three children, including Frank Jr., 2-year-old Christopher, and 6-year-old Julieanne in the car and were preparing to pull away when the bullets started flying.

"It sounded like something big and fast," said Frank Fernandez, who described himself as a former gang member. "Everybody (outside the car) was yelling, 'Get down! Get down!' I tried to put everybody down, but my little boy was standing up in the back and he got shot through the chest."

Also shot were Anthony Carmona, 26, and Jennie Hernandez, 21, both from Santa Ana.

'Never Forget the Guns'

"I'll be surprised if anyone sleeps on this street for a long time," said neighbor Ruth Macias, a La Bonita resident since the 1940s. "You never forget the popping of the guns. Never."

Such drive-by shootings are rare in Orange County, where gangs are growing but thus far have not resorted to the kind of violence associated with the large gangs of South-Central Los Angeles, where children increasingly have become victims of shootings.

"We've never had a (shooting) like this before that I remember, and I've been here 20 years," Lyons said.

Youths who identified themselves as members of the 17th Street gang denied any involvement in the shooting several weeks ago and said Saturday night's shooting was unwarranted.

Chris Lovato, a 17th Street gang member, said he was on the phone talking with a friend at the Fernandez house when he heard someone yell through the receiver, "I've been hit! I've been hit!" He ran two blocks to the shooting scene to find his best friend, Navarro, bleeding profusely.

'There Are Rules'

"There are rules, and one of them is you don't shoot at women and children," Lovato said.

The hows and whys mattered little to Navarro's mother, who wept softly Sunday holding a picture of her son "Mikey."

"I tried and tried to get him to quit the gang," she said. "But he wouldn't listen. He said it was too late."

She said her son was released from the California Youth Authority three months ago and had just gotten a new job as a warehouse clerk and purchased his first car. He seemed to be growing away somewhat from gang life, she said.

"Now this," she said as her 6-year-old daughter Esmeralda hugged her waist. "It just rips families apart. When will it stop?"

Times staff writers Mark Landsbaum and John Johnson contributed to this report

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