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Gunman in Shooting at Light Display Is Sought

Crime: Wife of Francisco Hernandez, who remains in gravely critical condition after he was shot Christmas in Candy Cane Lane, pleads for witnesses.

December 28, 1999|CAITLIN LIU | TIMES STAFF WRITER

RESEDA — With her husband barely clinging to life and leads on the crime turning cold, Veronica Mora begged the public for help Monday in capturing the gunman who shot him Christmas night during a family outing to a San Fernando Valley neighborhood called Candy Cane Lane.

"Please come forward and let us know if you know anything," pleaded the tearful 21-year-old from Winnetka in a news conference at the Los Angeles Police Department's West Valley station. "He was the best person I ever knew. He was a good daddy."

Her husband, Francisco Javier Hernandez, 24, remained in gravely critical condition Monday at Northridge Hospital Medical Center. Doctors have already told her that Hernandez--whose head was pierced by a bullet and is on life support--will probably not survive, Mora said.

The Winnetka construction worker was shot Saturday at about 10 p.m. at the intersection of Lubao Avenue and Calvert Street in front of his wife, their 2-year-old son, Javier, and numerous other horrified families.

Hernandez had just taken the toddler in his arms to see a corner house called Toyland because of its cartoon-character displays. Toyland was the main attraction of Candy Cane Lane, a Woodland Hills neighborhood near Pierce College famous during the holiday season for its lavish lights and decorations.

After Hernandez returned to the car, he saw someone he seemed to know, Mora said. But the man was not someone she recognized.

Hernandez left the car and approached the man. They began pushing each other, and the man drew out a small-caliber semiautomatic pistol and shot Hernandez in the head and upper body, said Capt. Jim Cansler of the LAPD's West Valley Division.

The entire exchange between the men lasted only about 30 seconds but long enough for mother and son to see almost everything--except the gunman's face--from about 100 feet away.

"He fall on the floor, Mommy!" Javier exclaimed to Mora as his father slumped to the sidewalk.

Mora later explained to the 2-year-old, "Daddy is sick."

Although a police helicopter arrived within minutes and swept the area, the gunman could not be found, which suggests he escaped in a car, said Det. Rick Swanston.

Witnesses have not provided police with enough information to identify the gunman or to draw a composite sketch.

"I can't tell you how desperately we need 1/8more 3/8 witnesses to come forward," said Det. Andrew Purdy. "There must have been at least 40 or 50 people on that corner. There were a lot of cars, bumper to bumper, in both directions. A lot of people saw something."

*

At the West Valley station Monday, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Laura Chick said the council stands ready to offer a reward "to help us solve this heinous crime."

"There is no place and no time anywhere in the city of Los Angeles that people shooting someone down is tolerated," Chick said. "But on this particular night and in this particular neighborhood, Candy Cane Lane . . . it is particularly intolerable."

On Monday, police released a fuller description of the gunman last seen running east on Calvert Street alongside an elementary school. Witnesses described the gunman as a Latino with a stocky build and about 5-feet 5-inches tall. The gunman, who had a mustache, wore a white long-sleeved shirt, dark pants and a black baseball cap.

Another man and a woman were seen running down Calvert after the shooting in the same direction as the gunman.

"They may be connected, they may not," Purdy said.

Witnesses said they saw a skinny boy about 10 years old, or perhaps in his early teens, standing with the gunman during his confrontation with Hernandez.

Police are asking anyone with more information to call West Valley homicide detectives at (818) 756-8546 weekdays or Detective Headquarters at (213) 485-2504 nights or weekends.

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