Two teenage boys were fatally shot in the crowded parking lot of a Stanton strip mall Saturday night after a fight escalated into gunfire, sheriff's deputies said.
By late Sunday, investigators had made no arrests in the shooting, which claimed the lives of a 14- and 17-year-old, nor had any guns been recovered.
The Sheriff's Department's homicide and gang units were investigating the shooting, because there may be a gang connection, said Sheriff's Lt. Tim Carney. Carney declined to release the names of the victims, pending notification of their families. Neither would sheriff's deputies discuss details of the shooting near the Tri-Q-Billiard hall at Beach Boulevard and Chapman Avenue.
The owner of the pool hall, 32-year-old Dennis Tran, said he did not know details of what occurred Saturday night, nor was he acquainted with the victims. He said police took a video from one of his security cameras that was aimed at the parking lot.
"It's a normal place," said Tran, who has owned the pool hall for three years. "We have a security guard at night. . . . I haven't had problems in a long time."
However, a witness and two others said the strip mall is a haven for gambling, prostitution and drug trafficking--contentions Tran disputed. Carney could not say Sunday how often deputies were called to the area.
The strip mall is the site of conflict between Vietnamese patrons and Latino day laborers, according to Cesar Martinez, who was waiting for work there Sunday.
A witness who declined to give her name for fear of retribution gave this account:
A group of about 50 teens gathered Saturday evening outside the popular pool hall and cafe in the 11000 block of Beach Boulevard to set off firecrackers and Roman candles. At first the mood was light. Despite three security guards at the strip mall, about a dozen teens started fighting, some lobbing firecrackers at one another. One teen was chasing the 17-year-old around the packed parking lot.
Sometime after 11 p.m. four shots mingled with the popping of pyrotechnics, the witness said. Girls screamed as the two young men fell.
While his older sister sobbed, a 14-year-old nicknamed "Johnny" and "little Buda" crumpled to the ground outside the Cafe Giai Nhan, shot in the side, the witness said. Police said he and his sister had just left the pool hall.
"'Don't leave, Johnny. Johnny, don't leave,"' the witness recounted his friends saying. Then they started talking to him in Vietnamese. "He was gasping for air. He tried to lift his hands toward us. I'll never forget the way he looked."
The 14-year-old died at the scene.
The 17-year-old collapsed onto a yellow speed bump, the witness said. His friends tossed his limp body in the back of a white car, drove to the emergency room of Garden Grove Hospital and Medical Center and shoved the body out.
Hospital spokeswoman Donna Almond said a group of young adults dumped the dead body as hospital shifts were changing and a half-dozen employees were milling around the emergency room entrance. The employees detained the car and called police.
The older teen was pronounced dead at the hospital.
In the searing sunlight Sunday, the only reminders of the previous day were cigarette butts, spent firecrackers and two burned incense sticks where the 14-year-old fell. With the charred sticks, someone had drawn the faint outline of a heart on the sidewalk.
While the strip mall seems placid enough by day, the atmosphere changes after nightfall, said Martinez, 39. "It's real bad racial problems here."
Wagering over games of pool prompted a parking lot fight between Latinos and Asians about a month ago, he said. That fight ended when someone fetched a gun from a car.
Sheriff's deputies Sunday could not verify the incident occurred.
Violence "will happen once again--I'm sure of it," Martinez said. "It's very dangerous."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Two teenagers were fatally shot at a Stanton mini-mall. Friends dumped the body of one at a Garden Grove hospital.
One teen dies at scene
Second teen dead at hospital