CHATSWORTH — Los Angeles police Wednesday identified the Chatsworth High School student who was shot to death in a Carl's Jr. parking lot as Aaron Bruce Nathaniel of Winnetka, who had just transferred from Pasadena High School.
A 17-year-old Lancaster youth, who was arrested on suspicion of murder after a brief search with police dogs, was being held at Sylmar Juvenile Hall.
Witnesses have told police that Nathaniel, 18, and his alleged killer were members of rival gangs, but the motive for the shooting was still unclear, said Los Angeles Police Det. Mike Oppelt of Devonshire Division's homicide unit.
Police said Nathaniel and the suspect knew each other, but Oppelt said he did not know the exact nature of their relationship.
About 4 p.m. Tuesday, the assailant walked into the Carl's Jr. on the southwest corner of Lassen Street and De Soto Avenue, where Nathaniel was sitting with a group of friends.
"There was a verbal challenge and they ended outside in the parking lot," Oppelt said.
A witness said the pair began fighting and then the Lancaster youth drew a gun and fired about seven shots. At least four 9-millimeter bullets struck Nathaniel, police and witnesses said.
Mortally wounded, Nathaniel stumbled to the east entrance of the restaurant and collapsed, police said.
The assailant ran across Lassen to an apartment building where he had been staying, police said. Three hours later, police dogs led officers to the suspect.
Detectives have interviewed more than 20 witnesses to the shooting, Oppelt said, about 15 of whom were at the restaurant.
Judy Rosner, a spokeswoman for the restaurant, said that particular branch is known as a hangout for local high school students. A guard was nearby, she said, but there was nothing the unarmed guard could do.
"We've never had anything like this happen there," she said.
Chatsworth High School Principal Dan Wyatt said Nathaniel was a student there, but had transferred from Pasadena High School only 20 days ago.
"We didn't really know him that well," Wyatt said.
Nevertheless, after school administrators announced the student's death during a morning assembly, half a dozen of his schoolmates sought out the 10 crisis counselors who were called in Wednesday.
Oppelt said the youth in custody was being "less than cooperative" and that he initially gave a false name and age.
Police are reviewing their files to determine whether the youth can be connected to any other recent crimes. Oppelt said he is a possible suspect in at least one other armed assault.