The two teen-agers were on their way back from a corner hamburger stand in East Los Angeles on a warm spring evening, one on foot and the other riding a bicycle behind him. Four gang members in a red Toyota pulled up beside them and opened fire.
The boy on foot, Felipe Gomez, 14, ran for cover and hid behind a parked car. One of the gang members jumped out of the car, chased him and shot him in the head at point-blank range, execution style, according to a Sheriff's Department spokesman. A few hours later, on Tuesday night, Felipe was pronounced dead.
His friend, Jimmy Cericeroz, 19, was shot in the back and fell in the street. The gang members wheeled their car around and ran over Cericeroz. They then put the car in reverse and were about to run him over again, witnesses said, but a screaming neighbor scared them off. Cericeroz was taken to Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center where he was in serious condition and could be paralyzed, the sheriff's spokesman said.
Drive-by killings have become so common in Southern California--there were 720 gang-related killings in the county last year--that many residents have become inured to the carnage. But on Wednesday, those in Felipe Gomez's neighborhood were still stunned by his death and trying to understand the brutality of the killing.
Longtime residents of the neighborhood recall the days when violence did not dictate how they lived, when parents did not have to keep their children inside on warm afternoons, when they did not have to hide under their sofas every time they heard a car backfire.
"This killing was so coldblooded, I couldn't believe it," said a witness who requested anonymity. "I didn't think it could get any worse on the streets . . . but it has."
While some crime statistics have dipped in Los Angeles County during the past year, gang shootings in East Los Angeles keep rising, said Al Garcia, a sheriff's deputy who works with the department's gang investigation unit. Last year at this time, sheriff's detectives had investigated six gang-related homicides in East Los Angeles, and there were 15 for the year, he said. This year there have been 18 already.
An edict late last year by the Mexican Mafia threatening to kill gang members who commit drive-by shootings has done little good, Garcia said. The only impact, he said, is that there now are more "walk-up" shootings on the streets of East Los Angeles.
Tuesday night's shooting might have been in retaliation for a shooting the previous week only a few blocks away, Garcia said.
But neither of the youths shot Tuesday were gang members, neighbors said. Cericeroz did not even live in the neighborhood. His family lived in Montebello and he occasionally stopped by to visit his grandmother and a few friends. Although Felipe was not in a gang, residents said, he had been in trouble with juvenile authorities and was attending a high school for youths on probation. Felipe had several friends and relatives who were members of Ford Maravilla, the neighborhood gang.
"The guys doing the shooting wanted to kill gang members," George (Mugsy) Hernandez said. Instead, neighbors said, they settled for killing someone who simply lived in the gang's neighborhood. "Felipe was just a little kid," Hernandez said. "He wasn't involved in the gang thing."
Felipe and Cericeroz were good friends, said Omar Gomez, the slain youth's brother. They worked together on Sundays at an East Los Angeles swap meet and often played soccer in the street where they were shot.
Now on the sidewalk, in front of the weathered stucco houses, there is a small shrine for Felipe, filled with votive candles and freshly cut roses and gladioluses.
His friends plan to hold a carwash Saturday at Olympic Boulevard and Ferris Avenue to raise money to help the family pay funeral expenses.
"When I grew up here, if we had a beef with someone from another neighborhood, we'd fight," said Adrian Hernandez, 29, a cousin of the slain youth. "Arguments could end up in blows, but that's it. Now it's a different world. All over the neighborhood I see little kids shooting little kids."