In a shooting that stunned Pasadena and perplexed police, three teen-age boys were killed when at least two men leaped out of the bushes and sprayed semiautomatic gunfire at a group of youngsters walking home from a Halloween party.
Bags of Halloween candy lay strewn near the bodies of the boys, ages 13 and 14.
The mother of one of the youths had driven by just moments before and offered him a ride home, but he told her "I'll race you there," witnesses said.
Three other young teen-agers suffered minor wounds in the 10:30 p.m. Sunday shootings in a residential neighborhood of central Pasadena.
Pasadena police said they suspected that the gunmen, who escaped in at least two cars, were members of a local gang. But the young victims had no known gang ties, police said.
"It's kind of baffling," Sgt. Timothy Sweetman said. "It may be mistaken identity. But these were babies. These kids were small."
"It's a coldblooded killing," Pasadena Mayor Rick Cole said. "Some witnesses say they heard laughter afterward. It was an evil deed."
People stood on the streets Monday near where the shooting occurred in the racially and economically mixed neighborhood of Craftsman cottages and apartments. Some wept in disbelief, others talked somberly of the slayings.
A vase of flowers, a candle and a sign had been left at the death scene. "Pray for Pasadena," the sign read. "There is still hope."
Art Paralta, a warehouse worker who lives two houses from the shooting site, said he was falling asleep when he heard seven shots. He went outside as the eighth was fired and saw the three fatally wounded boys, two of whom had been carrying bags of candy.
The mother and sister of one of the teen-agers, Stephen Coats, rushed from their nearby home, futilely trying to revive him.
"Just to see the way she was, I felt so sorry for her," Paralta said of the mother, Deborah Coats, who works for the Pasadena Police Department as a civilian assistant. "As a man, I don't cry, but it made me cry. I (saw) an officer crying."
Police, who said they are likely to urge the Pasadena City Council to offer a reward in the case, were seeking leads in the community, including license plate numbers and descriptions of the gunmen and possible accomplices.
"You can never get over seeing--as I did last night--12- and 13-year-old people gunned down in the streets of Pasadena," Police Chief Jerry Oliver said. "We need to control guns in this society."
Police said the shooting occurred as about 10 boys--none in Halloween costumes--were walking home from a well-chaperoned party attended by about 40 neighborhood teen-agers. As they walked, men in four cars drove by and stared at them, some of the group said later.
They continued on, with some stopping at a phone booth to call their parents and tell them they were on the way home, police said. But when they reached a house surrounded by thick bushes and a fence in the 500 block of North Wilson Avenue, at least two men jumped out, fired and then ran up the street, getting into cars and driving away.
Police did not release the names of the victims. But neighbors and school staff identified the dead as 14-year-olds Stephen Coats Jr. and Reggie Crawford, who were ninth-graders at Muir High School, and Edgar Evans, 13, an eighth-grader at Washington Middle School.
The three wounded boys, also 13 and 14, were treated at a local hospital and released.
According to one youngster in the group, who did not want to be identified, someone shouted "Now blood!" just before shots were fired. He said he heard Stephen say, "I'm hit."
"A bullet went in his head and he went down," the boy said.
Stephen's father, Stephen Coats Sr., said none of those shot were gang members.
"On weekends, all the kids are here playing Nintendo until the wee hours," he said. "They were not the type to hang on the streets. They were really good kids. The way they were shot makes no sense at all."
Moments before the shooting, his wife, Deborah--the Police Department employee--had driven by the group, which included another son, 13-year-old Kenny. She asked her boys if they wanted a ride home, but they declined, saying they would race her home, witnesses said.
As Deborah Coats was pulling into the family's driveway a block away, she heard the gunshots--then Kenny yelling for help. She ran back with her 17-year-old daughter, Stephanie, who tried to revive her brother.
"She saw he was shot in the head. She saw there was no hope," said Stephen Coats Sr.
Coats said his wife "was devastated. She talked to her son and five minutes later sees him lying on the ground dead."
Stephen Jr. was known as an artist good enough to paint a mural at his middle school.
"He was a nice young man, quiet, well-behaved, a real sweet kid," said Diane Wahl, who taught him art. "(He was) liked by everybody and admired because he could draw anything."