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Slain Youth's Funeral Serves as Call for Peace

Violence: As Raul Aguirre is remembered in Glendale, officials seek to stem further clashes between Latinos and Armenian Americans.

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

As much as it was a moment for mourning, the funeral Friday for Raul Aguirre 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 widened when Aguirre was stabbed to death last week 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 inter-ethnic gang war.

"I have to believe if Raul could stand up here today, he would say violence is not the answer," said Father 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 countercultural 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 increase police presence on the streets this weekend, including using officers on overtime. Patrol officers will question and possibly run probation checks on teenagers hanging out in groups on city streets, said Police Sgt. Rick Young.

"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 to say goodbye to Aguirre on Friday. There were teenage girls 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, families and city officials sweating in their suits. The church was filled beyond capacity and although 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 Glendale Councilman Gus Gomez. "This has been a terrible, tragic wake-up call that we need to work together."

The most emotional moment of the funeral came when the blue steel casket was wheeled into the church. The lid was closed, but inside Aguirre lay in his favorite Dodger jersey and jeans. His cousins, dressed in black pants, black shirts and white gloves, bowed their heads as they pushed the casket down the church aisle. Many people started 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 Aguirre's uncle about how his nephew was planning to join the Marines, and the boy's other dreams. A Marine Corps color guard escorted the casket out of the sanctuary and on to Forest Lawn Glendale for burial.

Then mourners sang "Let There Be Peace on Earth."

Aguirre, a Hoover High School senior who was not in a gang, was beaten with a tire iron and stabbed in the heart a week ago Friday as he was trying to break up a fight between two Armenian American boys and a Latino teenager. The three had started fighting in front of Hoover High after flashing gang signs, 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 role in driving the other two to the scene of the crime and trying to help Gevorgyan escape.

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

Witnesses said someone sitting in the front passenger seat fired five or six shots, one of which struck Aram Goulian, 18, in the leg. He was taken to St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, where he was treated and released. The car carrying the gunman sped away and no arrests have been made.

Community leaders are stepping up efforts to hold forums to address 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 closing the street that runs in front of Toll, Hoover and an adjacent elementary school. Another gathering will be held Monday at St. Mary's Armenian Apostolic Church.

"It's tragic that it takes another senseless killing to realize we need to do more as a community," said Glendale Councilman Rafi Manoukian, referring to the 1998 shooting death of Hoover student Avetis "Avo" Demirchyan, 15. A friend of the victim, also an 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."

*

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

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