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Mourners Hear a Call for Peace

Tragedy: As officers patrol outside, nearly 1,000 fill church to hear eulogy for Glendale teen slain amid ethnic fighting. Police vow to curb violence.

May 13, 2000|JEFFREY GETTLEMAN and GREG RISLING | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

GLENDALE — The funeral for Raul Aguirre on Friday was not just a moment for mourning, it was a call for peace.

In the songs, in the prayers, in the sermon, in the eulogy, the message to the hundreds of mourners was to heal ethnic divisions created by the stabbing death last week of 17-year-old Raul during a fight with Armenian American teenagers.

Those rifts split open again Thursday night when police said a carload of Latinos shot an Armenian American boy in retaliation, triggering worries of an ethnic gang war.

"I have to believe if Raul could stand up here today he would say violence is not the answer," said the Rev. Paul J. Hruby of Incarnation Catholic Church, where the service was held. "We are not only Latino and Armenian, white and Asian, black and Middle Eastern. We are instruments of peace and we are called to be counter-cultural and to love and be loved by all."

While nearly 1,000 mourners streamed into the church Friday, Glendale city officials scrambled to clamp down on further violence.

At least 15 police officers patrolled the church and its grounds. At Glendale City Hall, meetings were held to find ways to boost police presence on the streets this weekend, including the use of off-duty officers on overtime. Patrol officers will question and possibly run probation checks on teenagers hanging out in groups on city streets, Glendale Police Sgt. Rick Young said.

"We're coming down hard," Young said. "We can't afford to let this violence continue. What do they want? Another boy killed?"

People of all types came Friday to say goodbye to Raul.

There were teenage girls dressed in black with butterfly clips in their hair. There were men in work pants with rings of keys hanging on their hips and boys with shaved heads and scowling faces. There were old people, wailing babies, women in hats, families, and city officials sweating in their suits. The church was filled beyond capacity and though the crowd was mostly Latino, there were several Armenian Americans who came to pay respects.

"I think the two communities are closer now than we were a week ago," said Gus Gomez, a Glendale councilman. "This has been a terrible, tragic wake-up call that we need to work together."

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The most emotional moment of the funeral was when the blue-steel casket was wheeled into the church. The lid was closed, but inside Raul lay in his favorite Dodgers jersey and a pair of jeans. Raul's cousins, dressed in black pants, black shirts and white gloves, bowed their heads as they pushed the casket down the church aisle. Many began sobbing.

"It's so sad what happened to him," said 13-year-old Lourdes Loyola, a school friend.

The service closed with a eulogy by Raul's uncle on the teen's plan to join the Marines and his other dreams. Then mourners sang "Let There Be Peace on Earth."

A Marine Corps color guard escorted the casket out of the sanctuary and to Forest Lawn Glendale for burial.

Raul, a Hoover High senior, was beaten with a tire iron and stabbed in the heart a week ago Friday as he tried to break up a fight between two Armenian American boys and a Latino teen. Police said the three started fighting in front of Hoover High after flashing gang signs. Raul was not in a gang, police said.

The two boys, 15-year-old Rafael Gevorgyan and 17-year-old Karen Terteryan, along with Anait Ano Msyran, a 14-year-old girl, have been charged with first-degree murder and will stand trial as adults. If convicted, they face possible life in prison.

Msyran is facing murder charges for her alleged role in driving the other two to the shooting scene and trying to help Gevorgyan escape.

A second, related incident of violence erupted Thursday night when a group of Latinos fired at least five shots into a crowd of young Armenian American men gathered in front of a doughnut shop, according to Glendale police officials. The young men were seen in a teal-colored Honda Accord that pulled into the parking lot. One passenger shouted obscenities at the crowd that was only about five to 10 feet away, authorities said.

Witnesses said a person in the front passenger seat fired five or six shots, one of which struck 18-year-old Aram Goulian in the leg, authorities said. Goulian was taken to Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, where he was treated and released.

The car carrying the three Latinos sped away and no arrests have been made.

"From what we know, this was indeed retaliation for Raul," Young said.

Community leaders are stepping up efforts to hold forums to address safety issues and the long-standing tensions between Latinos and Armenian Americans, the two dominant minority groups in Glendale. A meeting was held at Toll Middle School on Thursday night to discuss ways to make the school area safer, including permanently shutting down the road that runs in front of Toll, Hoover High and an adjacent elementary school. Another gathering is scheduled for Monday at St. Mary's Armenian Apostolic Church.

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"It's tragic that it takes another senseless killing to realize we need to do more as a community," said Glendale City Councilman Rafi Manoukian, who was referring to the 1998 shooting death of 15-year-old Hoover High student Avetis "Avo" Demirchyan. A friend of the victim, also Armenian American, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in that case.

"Parents are concerned about the safety of their kids and hopefully at the meeting we will talk about what we can do to prevent something like this from happening again," Manoukian said.

Gettleman is a Times staff writer; Risling is a Times Community News correspondent.

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