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Slain Child Mourned : Stephanie Kuhen Is Laid to Rest as Police Arrest 5th Suspect in Shooting

September 26, 1995|GEOFFREY MOHAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Stephanie Kuhen, whose death last week became a national symbol of random urban violence, was laid to rest Monday in a private ceremony, nine days before she would have celebrated her fourth birthday.

The private funeral, attended by about 100 mourners, came as authorities moved cautiously in their hunt for the suspected gang members who killed Stephanie. Wounded in the same incident were her brother Joseph, 2, and a family friend, Timothy Stone. Police say gang members fired on the car after its driver, Stone, mistakenly turned down a dead-end section of Isabel Street in Cypress Park.

Another suspect, an unidentified juvenile, was arrested Monday morning, bringing to five the number in custody, according to Los Angeles police. Marcos Antonio Luna, 24, Marvin Alejandro Pech, 19, and an unidentified 16-year-old were arrested Friday night. In addition, police continue to hold Vincent Caldera, 23, a parolee and reputed associate of the Mexican Mafia who was arrested last week. After touting him as a prime suspect Thursday, police backed off seeking charges against Caldera when witnesses failed to identify him in a lineup the next day.

Detectives remained tight-lipped about the progress of their investigation Monday, while the Los Angeles County district attorney's office weighed evidence against the suspects.

"It's a very difficult case," acknowledged Deputy Dist. Atty. Eleanor Hunter. "People are scared to death. We just have to take it one step at a time."

Among the mourners at Monday's funeral services were a dozen LAPD officers, including members of the CRASH anti-gang unit from the Northeast Division, said Michael Fanning, a cousin of Stephanie's parents. An entourage of more than 40 vehicles filed out the black wrought-iron gates of Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale after the two-hour service and burial.

The sight of the flower-draped white casket--only 4 1/2 feet long--drew sobs from many in attendance, said Fanning.

On the street outside the cemetery, Fanning stopped to read to the media comments he had delivered at the funeral.

Calling her "God's little angel," Fanning said Stephanie's death "brought the nation to its knees" in horror, but also in the hope that she will spur a struggle against urban violence.

"The mourning hasn't even begun yet," Fanning explained. "It's going to start setting in in a few days."

Scores of white balloons were released over the hills of Forest Lawn at the end of the service.

Fanning said the balloons were meant to symbolize purity and hope. "They looked like little pearls in the sky," he said.

A group of parents picking up their children from a nearby preschool stood across from the cemetery entrance, crowded with television satellite trucks. Some shook their heads sadly.

"We have to do something to stop this shooting in the street," said Myra Garcia, who gripped the hand of her 3-year-old. "We have a family. We don't know if tomorrow it will be our family."

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