Even on the best days, when the smog clears and the palm trees beckon, Los Angeles is a brutal place.
Last year, 2,401 corpses were wheeled into the county coroner's office--an average of 6.6 a day--with bullet holes, knife wounds, shattered skulls or some other signature of homicide.
The tide of carnage has become so numbing that when forces converge to add 28 names to the tally, as was the case in a brutal 60-hour stretch this past weekend, the county's nearly 9 million residents seem to pause only briefly to register the grim facts before getting back to the business of their lives.
Yet for an unfortunate fraction of the population, the weekend death toll--one of the worst ever in Los Angeles--reverberated in more personal ways. They were left to sort through the fallout of 28 lost lives.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday August 26, 1992 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 3 Column 3 Metro Desk 2 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Shooting victim--Based on information supplied by authorities, it was reported Monday that Desiree Macias, 14, of Pico Rivera, was killed in a gang shootout early Sunday in Boyle Heights. She was an innocent bystander and not affiliated with a gang, Los Angeles police said.
Some did it out of duty, such as the homicide detectives who mined the grisly details and the pathologists who prepared for the onslaught of autopsies. Some did it instinctively, in memory of a slain daughter or friend, such as the relatives and neighbors forced to confront life without their loved ones. Others, such as barroom managers faced with hosing down bloodstains, did it because the deaths remained a stubborn impediment to business as usual.
"Jesus Christ, what is happening here?" asked Jeff Williams, whose neighbor, Los Angeles Police Detective Ed Kislo, was a victim of the weekend mayhem. "Is life that bad?"
Friends said that Kislo, 50, had spent the last 19 years roaming the seamy corners of Los Angeles as a patrol officer and, most recently, as an investigator of suicide cases. Though he loved his work, he had become drained. He maintained a tough cop exterior, but was deeply troubled by the wasted human lives he encountered every day.
"He was sad about it all," Williams said. "The nonsense shootings, the suicides, the people who were killed just like it was nothing."
Kislo had forged a tiny island of peace on a dusty lot next to the Santa Monica Freeway in Palms. The divorced father of a 14-year-old boy, he moved there seven months ago to save money in preparation for his scheduled retirement next year, when he planned to move out of California.
Kislo and Williams bought matching trailers and set them up near each other on the lot, a parcel used mainly by contractors to stow construction equipment and old tractor parts. He fenced off a little square, shaded by eucalyptus trees, and adopted a junkyard puppy he named Bear.
But Kislo's dream of escaping to the forests and streams of Oregon ended late Saturday night, when a neighbor called and asked if he would check her back yard for a prowler she had heard. Almost as soon as Kislo arrived, the assailant shot him once in the chest.
Kislo was armed, police said, but it did not appear that he had time to return fire.
"He was going to . . . get the hell out of this crazy city," Williams said. "It's sorry the way things are around here. Taking people's lives like kicking a dog."
About the time Kislo was killed, a burst of automatic gunfire rang out at 112th and Figueroa streets. Father Gary Banks, associate pastor of Ascension Catholic Church, was sitting in the rectory kitchen when he heard the blasts. He and a visiting priest ran to the church doorway to assess the damage.
As it turned out, no one was hurt, Banks said, but the explosion left his visitor badly shaken.
"He was all upset. I told him: 'You know what the worst thing is: I'm afraid we're just getting too used to it,' " Banks said, noting that his church usually mourns between three and five deaths each month--most of them young men. "Violence is part of the daily fare here. The shadow of death is never far away. . . . The problem is, it may be the fifth death I'm dealing with this month, but it's the only death for that family. And that's the way we have to treat it."
By Monday, Los Angeles Police Detective Richard Hoffman had survived one of the bloodiest weeks in the 3 1/2-year existence of the department's South Bureau homicide division. As the supervising detective on round-the-clock call, he established an office record by responding to 17 incidents in seven days--three double homicides, 10 single homicides, three gunshot head wounds in which the victims survived and one ambiguous case later determined to be a death from natural causes.
Hoffman's last call was a stabbing case that dragged him out of bed at 3:40 a.m. Monday.
After such a busy week, "you feel frazzled," Hoffman said.
So far this month, 85 people have been killed in Los Angeles, 45 of them in the last 10 days. While August has traditionally been the city's leading month for homicides--a fact that many police officials and psychologists attribute to heat and free time--the last few days have been particularly frightening.
Some of the weekend's violence was random, some of it fueled by passion, some of it determined by the merest difference of a few inches in a bullet's path.