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Caroler, 24, Shot Dead in Drive-By

Crime: Man was singing with church group near Compton. A friend is seriously wounded.

December 20, 1998|JAMES RAINEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 24-year-old man holiday caroling with his church youth group was shot and killed and a second man seriously wounded in a drive-by attack near Compton.

Heder Faamausili and about a dozen friends had dropped a holiday basket at the door of two elderly women Friday night, and had finished singing "Silent Night," when the crackle of at least seven shots sent the carolers diving for cover.

Faamausili, however, had nowhere to escape on the grassy center median of South Castlegate Avenue, where he had left the group briefly to talk to a neighborhood friend, Ben Leilua, 25.

An older gold Cadillac pulled alongside the pair. The driver, saying nothing, leveled a pistol and fired at least seven shots, witnesses said. Faamausili died three hours later at St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood. Leilua was recovering at the same hospital Saturday with three gunshot wounds.

In the close-knit Samoan American community, Faamausili's friends and relatives said he had been devoted to the church and steered clear of the sometimes violent street cliques around Compton.

"We are all just in shock," said Jane Mauinatu, one of the carolers who gathered Saturday before a makeshift shrine of poinsettias and holiday cards. "He was trying to do something so good, and something so bad happened."

Vaotupua Feula, an official of the Mormon church and also a Los Angeles police officer, called Faamausili "a very good kid, not associated with any gangs or drugs."

Sheriff's deputies said they have not uncovered a motive for the shootings.

From his hospital bed, Leilua said by telephone that the shooting was "totally random," although he acknowledged that he was released this year from state prison where he served four years for assaulting a Compton police officer. He said he had no idea why anyone would target him, or Faamausili.

Leilua said he had just moved into his parents house in the unincorporated county area known as East Rancho Dominguez, across the street from the shooting scene.

He said he is not a gang member and has not been in trouble since leaving High Desert prison. "Man, I am fresh out on the streets. I ain't done s--- to nobody," he said. Faamausili arrived Friday afternoon at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints before the other carolers. He helped pack gift baskets of fruit and baked goods, to be delivered to about half a dozen elderly parishioners that night.

The congregation has served Samoan Americans from around south Los Angeles County for more than 20 years. On the night of the shooting, teenagers gathered there for a holiday dance. On Saturday, younger children were decorating a Christmas tree.

Faamausili and about a dozen other young men and women had already stopped at one home, where they sang to a blind woman, before they arrived at the house on South Castlegate, just half a block from their church at about 7:30 p.m.

They sang "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" and "Silent Night," the latter in both English and Samoan. The group was preparing to get back in their cars and drive to another home when Faamausili stepped onto the grass median to talk to Leilua.

Leilua said the two were saying their goodbyes when the lone gunman began firing. Faamausili told his friend to duck, but both were hit several times, Leilua said.

Sheriff's investigators initially said after the shooting that the motivation was unclear. They could not be reached Saturday for further comment.

Friends and siblings described Faamausili as an ebullient and strapping young man. A former football player at nearby Dominguez High School, he liked to act as a protector to the young women in the church group.

He was one of seven children and happily pitched in with baby-sitting nieces and nephews, said his sister, Mona Faamausili. "He was the best brother anyone could ever have," she said.

Faamausili had just started a new warehouse job, along with his friend Tino Simi. Both had received their first paychecks earlier that day, Simi said.

"It was only like $23 that we got, but he was just happy to have some gas money and some money to go out with the girls after the caroling," said Simi, also a member of the group of singers.

Fa'aleaga To'alepai, bishop to the congregation, said that the young man had in recent weeks reiterated his desire to go on a mission for the church.

Now, his friend Mauinatu said, Faamausili will have to "serve up in heaven."

The young man had a slogan he liked to repeat to the rest of the youth group: "The sky is the limit."

"When they put him on the gurney to put him in the ambulance, we all yelled, 'The sky is the limit, Heder,' " said Mauinatu, holding back tears. "And he put up the peace sign. That was the last thing he did. That was Heder, all the way."

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