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Carjackers Strike Near High School : Crime: A student loses his classic Volkswagen at gunpoint while activities are taking place on campus. Police see it as an escalation of bandits' boldness.


PALMS — An 18-year-old Hamilton High School student was held at gunpoint last week by carjackers who stole his classic Volkswagen during an afternoon baseball game at the Westside school. Police say the blatant theft signals a new level of crime in the area--during daylight hours at a patrolled school with extracurricular activities still in progress.

Principal Nina Russo said she will discuss the incident with the school-based management council and this week began visiting classes to inform students about the incident and advise them how best to react if faced with a similar situation.

"He's one of our kids, a kid in love with his car," Russo said. "We need to role-play that situation and train kids what to do. . . . This kind of thing is happening everywhere."

She said that school parking lots, which are closed off by gates and chains, cannot hold all cars, so some students must park on the street. The 19-acre campus is patrolled by two school district police officers and 10 unarmed security staffers until 4 p.m., when security levels drop to one officer and four unarmed staffers. Los Angeles police officers are hired for evening sports events.

Russo said further safety measures will be discussed at this week's booster club meeting.

The carjacking victim, David Padilla, a senior at the humanities magnet, said in an interview that as he left an exhibition game against Marshall High School last Thursday afternoon, he was approached by a teen-ager he did not know.

"Hey, that's a nice Bug," the youth said, asking Padilla if he was interested in selling his black '59 VW Beetle, parked alongside the school at Robertson Boulevard and Kincardine Avenue. "I said, 'Sure, I been thinking about it,' and showed him the car."

After a few minutes of unfruitful discussion, Padilla said he got into his car and bent down to pick up something, intending to drive around to the front of the school where several friends were waiting for a ride.

"Then I looked up and there was a gun in my face. He told me to start the car and drive around the block. So I did. When we got back, he told me to pull into the gas station and pull up next to a red '63 Bug where two other teens waited and to get out.

"I was begging him, 'Please don't take my car; please don't hurt me.' I reached for the keys but he said, 'If you reach for those keys again, I'll blow your head off.' "

Padilla said a second teen pulled him from the car, saying "Get out before he hurts you." Both cars then sped south on Robertson. As Padilla ran screaming into the gas station, an off-duty school police officer rushed out, but it was too late.

Padilla said the youths took not only his pride--the Bug he had bought for $2,000 with his earnings and plowed another $1,500 and hours of hard work into--but also his backpack containing identification, $150, books, keys and a pager he uses to stay in touch with his father, a contractor with whom he works.

Los Angeles Police Lt. Ross Moen said Wednesday that no arrests have been made. But Padilla said he thinks he has spotted "parts of my car" on Volkswagens cruising on Crenshaw Boulevard--his black fenders on a red Bug and another VW with his wheel rims.

"I know my Bug was marked," he said. "I've been chased before near where I live (in South Central Los Angeles). But I never thought this could happen in the daytime across the street from my school.

"But now the Bug is secondary. I was thinking of my mom and dad and brother. The Bug is not worth dying over. I used to tell my friends, 'If anybody tries to take my car, they'll have to kill me first.'

"I cried the whole weekend," he said. "I'm out of tears and feelings now."

Still, Padilla was back in class Tuesday. "My mom told me I didn't have to come back, but I figured, why lose a day of school? (The heist) was a onetime thing. What more are they gonna take from me? These guys don't go here."

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