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2 Brothers Shot, 1 Fatally, Trying to Stop Teen Spray-Painting Graffiti

January 24, 2002|MILTON CARRERO GALARZA and HECTOR BECERRA | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A teenage security guard was fatally shot and his older brother was critically wounded as they attempted to stop an armed teenager who was spray-painting graffiti in South Los Angeles, authorities said Wednesday.

Luis Gamez, 18, and his brother, Oscar, 21, were guarding the Plaza Vermont apartment complex in the 900 block of 62nd Street when they saw a young man vandalizing a home across the street.

The brothers, who worked for their stepfather's security company, Suarez Security, confronted the teen, who opened fire with an automatic rifle shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday, said Officer Guillermo Campos, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department.

Both brothers were taken to a nearby hospital, where Luis died. Oscar was listed in stable condition late Wednesday.

The stepfather, Alberto Suarez, witnessed the shooting and struggled with the gunman before the assailant freed himself and ran. Luis stood beside him during the struggle, Suarez said.

"I cried to him, 'Put the handcuffs on him, son,' " Suarez said between sobs.

"But he was no longer saying anything. I told him, 'Why aren't you putting the handcuffs on him?' But he had collapsed."

Suarez said Luis died in his arms.

"My son was beautiful. He was never in the streets, his free time he spent with me. He was never with gangs. He was a wonderful student," Suarez said. "I won't rest until they catch the person who did this and until I see him with my own eyes."

Luis was to graduate in June from Garfield High School in East Los Angeles.

He wanted to join the military and eventually take over the family business, relatives said.

Oscar is a student at Cal State Los Angeles.

Police described the suspect, who remained at large late Wednesday, as a teenager who used to frequent the area.

Several residents of the apartment building said the brothers were cheerful and respectful.

Michelle Smith, 28, said she was in her apartment when the gunshots rang out. After they stopped, she rushed to the scene and saw Oscar on the ground trying to call for help on a hand radio. She said she saw his brother writhing in pain on the sidewalk near a telephone pole.

Some area residents said the shooting frightened them so much that they are thinking of moving away. Others said they worried about their children's safety.

Eugene Warren, 23, who lives in the apartment complex, said he was going up the elevator with his fiancee and his three children when he heard the gunshots that smashed a glass door and left a trail of bullet holes at Plaza Vermont's entrance.

He was carrying his 6-month-old daughter when he left the elevator and ran to his apartment. He said the neighborhood violence forces him to keep his family inside as much as possible.

"I can't even let them go outside and play with the other kids," Warren said, "because stuff can happen at night or during the day. I don't want them to be dodging bullets."

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