There was no quick and easy way to describe how Kimberley Horton died on July 25, 1992, at the hands of a gunman who only wanted her car.
The word "carjacking" had yet to creep into the national lexicon, even though the crime was soaring across the country.
Horton, a 21-year-old UCLA student who dreamed of studying international law, was one of the first local victims of this new, terrifying form of car theft, a crime that shattered the illusion that people were safe inside their cars.
A stranger shot Horton in the head at a red light late that night at 80th Street and Crenshaw Boulevard as she was driving to her parents' nearby Inglewood home. Dragged from the car, she was left in the gutter by a gunman, who sped off with her '91 Honda Accord and abandoned it in Pomona.
On Monday, the Horton family, still struggling to make sense of a senseless act, gathered in Los Angeles Superior Court for the suspect's arraignment.
His name is Torrance Black, now 24. From the start, homicide investigators had suspected Black, a troubled Diamond Bar youth who allegedly was involved in a killing rampage. But it would be nearly two years before they tracked him down to a Michigan jail, where he was serving 25 years to life for a Detroit murder.
Black now faces murder charges here in the slaying of Horton, as well as in a double killing in Sylmar and the attempted murder of an Alhambra man. He pleaded not guilty in his arraignment Monday on murder charges that could carry the death penalty.
Horton's family watched in silence. Four years has done little to diminish their hurt. Kim was the youngest of five children, the baby of the family, the one everyone helped raised, the one everyone pinned their hopes on for the future.
"Then in an instant she is gone. It's a raw pain that just comes back, it really never left," said her father, Richard Horton, a Baptist minister whose agony became so great after Kimberley's death that he questioned his own belief in God.
What exacerbated the pain was that the crime was so new, and then suddenly so indelible.
Within weeks of Kimberley's death, cities across the nation were reporting staggering numbers of carjackings. By the fall of that year, the FBI put out a formal warning about "carjackings" and the crime was made a federal offense. No neighborhood seemed safe: Late-model cars were being "jacked" and their owners shot in a wide variety of communities.
The national outrage was fueled by the 1992 death in Maryland of an award-winning research chemist who became entangled in her seat belt and was dragged nearly two miles by thieves making their getaway. The woman's 22-month-old daughter was thrown uninjured onto the side of the road soon after the car was stolen.
The 1993 carjacking death of basketball star Michael Jordan's father in South Carolina added to the national furor. And the 1994 death of two Japanese college students in a San Pedro parking lot brought international attention to the specter.
The depth of public fear was illustrated last month when California voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment imposing the death penalty for the crime.
"It is a crime that was given a name that caught on," said Michael Rand, a chief statistician for the federal Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Even before the term became widely used, there were about 35,000 attempted or successful carjacking incidents a year in the United States between 1987 and 1992, the last year for which federal statistics were compiled. In nearly half of the incidents, cars were stolen, Rand said. About 4% of all victims suffered death or serious injuries.
For all the crime's notoriety, carjacking represents a tiny fraction of homicides. Rand said 50 people died in carjackings in 1994, out of 23,000 homicides in the nation that year.
While Los Angeles was not the first community where the term surfaced, it was, from the start, one of the nation's leaders in carjackings. In 1994 under a category called "robbery grand-theft auto crimes," the city had 2,688 reports. They have been occurring at an annual pace of slightly more than 2,000 a year since.
The arrest of Black in the Horton case was the result of a coordinated effort involving law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles, Inglewood, San Bernardino and Pomona.
Investigators contend that Black killed Horton in July, shot and wounded Pal Ho outside an Alhambra hotel seven months later, and four months after that--in June 1993--fatally shot Phillip Doll, 17, and Christian Fries, 19.
Black shot Ho as part of a contract hit for an Asian gang, detectives say. They believe that he was involved in a series of residential robberies with Fries and Doll, and killed them in Sylmar after a dispute.
Black is also a prime suspect in the 1992 San Bernardino slaying of Amy Hess, his girlfriend, who was shot and left in her car in a new Chino Hills subdivision. However, he has not been charged with that crime.