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Escalating Gang Battle Plagues Northeast Valley

Violence: There have been 13 homicides this year and police expect more shootings in the near future. San Fernando and Sylmar groups are in the middle of it.

July 04, 2001|MICHAEL KRIKORIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Det. Kandis "Candy" Schmidt was glad to be wrong.

Despite her prediction, there were no gang killings in the Los Angeles Police Department's Foothill Division last weekend. The detective, who has been following a widening gang war in Sylmar, thinks she knows why.

"The only reason no one died is because they can't shoot very well," Schmidt said Tuesday.

Friday evening, two gang members walked up to a group of teenagers in the Dronfield Village apartment complex in Sylmar. One pulled out a semiautomatic handgun and fired four shots. No one was hit, police said.

Since Jan. 1, there have been 13 gang-related killings in the northeastern San Fernando Valley, compared with eight in all of 2000, police said. In 1999, there were 12 gang-related homicides, and 21 in 1998.

Two gangs--an old, large one from San Fernando and a newer, smaller one from Sylmar--have been in open combat, leaving one dead and five wounded in the last two weeks, police said.

Investigators believe the fighting erupted when San Fer, the street name for the San Fernando gang, demanded money from the smaller Astoria Gardens Locos, AGL.

When AGL refused, the shooting began. Members of the San Fer gang, which has been around for more than 30 years and has about 500 members, are involved in a wide range of crimes, police said. AGL has about 25 members.

Los Angeles and San Fernando police departments have stepped up efforts to control what they fear could become an escalating cycle of attack and retaliation.

"We're concentrating our efforts on gathering [information] on the key players," San Fernando Det. Jeff Eley said.

"Obviously, we are very concerned about gang violence during the upcoming summer, so we are looking at adding more officers to help deal with the problem," said Capt. Kenneth Garner, commander of the Foothill Division.

The most recent violence occurred June 25, when George Cruz, 16, was shot to death. Three days later, a reputed member of the rival gang was seriously wounded.

Because of the size of the city, police patrols are of limited use in stopping gang violence, authorities said. Officers say gang members can easily elude passing police cars.

One of the best ways to combat gangs, police say, is through intelligence gathered from gang members.

On Tuesday, Schmidt was interrogating a Sylmar gang member at the Foothill station. She told him the San Fers were going to come down hard on AGL.

"They are going to kill you," she said. "You need to get out."

Later, the boy's parents wiped away tears after the detective repeated her warning. They said they would send him to a city they felt was safer than Sylmar: Tijuana.

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