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Football Player's Shooting Shatters Sense of Isolation on USC Campus

October 04, 1992|ALICIA DI RADO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The traditional brick buildings and neat green lawns at USC stand in stark contrast to the surrounding area's ongoing violence. But the campus no longer seems quite so isolated from the outside world.

Everyone, from students to professors, seemed to be talking about the Monday shooting that wounded a freshman football player at team practice.

Jon McGee was struck in the arm when a stray bullet from a gang shooting at Jefferson Boulevard and Vermont Avenue entered Howard Jones Field a quarter-mile away, police said. McGee said he heard six or seven gunshots, felt something graze his arm and felt it go numb. He was taken to California Medical Center where he underwent tests Tuesday.

Police said the shootout was next to the field where the football team usually practices at 3:30 p.m.

Students were surprised that violence strayed into the university grounds, but they seemed to be taking it in stride.

"I hear the popping from gunfire--rat-a-tat--every night," one student told a classmate as he unlocked his bicycle.

'Well, just don't stand by the window," she said with a laugh. He responded with a shrug.

"I'm from South-Central, so it's nothing to me," said Brandon Martin, a freshman who was playing basketball across the street from Jones Field. "I grew up around this."

"It's just L.A.," senior Ashley Burns said. "You can't just pick up the university and move it to another neighborhood."

Others from quieter hometowns reacted differently.

"There are a lot of people in dorms that are freaking out," said Heather Burns, a freshman from Glastonbury, Conn., and Ashley Burn's sister. "The first thing they did when they found out about the shooting was call their parents and tell them they weren't involved."

Several students recalled that spring finals were canceled or postponed because of the April-May rioting. At that time, the university itself escaped damage, but stores around its perimeter were looted and burned. Last week's shooting seemed mild to those students, in comparison to the riots.

"You'd think that after the riots something would've been done around here," said Jeff McCollum, a junior. "But the next thing you know, someone's going to get gunned down in front of Tommy Trojan."

A number of students praised the university's security but said they often felt afraid to go anywhere after dark.

"I almost got shot not too far from here one night," McCollum said. When he and a friend drove to a liquor store on Vermont Avenue after midnight, he recalled, two men pulled up in front of them, fired two shots over their heads and drove off.

"And you hear things like that all the time," he said. "All the girls put cellular phones in their cars because they're afraid to get stuck somewhere when it's dark."

Despite the violence, university enrollment has remained steady at about 27,500 in recent years, USC officials said. Freshman enrollment actually rose from 2,365 in the fall of 1990 to 2,438 this fall.

"We encourage our people not to be hardened but attentive, not naive but skillful" in avoiding crime, said Robert Biller, vice president of undergraduate affairs. "We're all saddened (by the shooting), but we see it as a freak occurrence."

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