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Murder Case Shocks Teens' Classmates

Crime: Police call four high school seniors held in a weekend slaying gang members, but peers describe caring, respectful students.

June 13, 2002|MILTON CARRERO GALARZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It wasn't hard for Angela Duran to see that something was bothering three of her friends at school Monday.

Ron Le, Jack San and Anthony Nguyen were not their usual talkative selves, she said. Duran, 17, remembers going to class with Nguyen and wondering why he was sitting at the back of the room, resting his head on the desk. And Tho Ton wasn't even at school.

Her worries were warranted. Ton wasn't at school because he had been arrested the day before. The other three would be arrested later Monday.

Students at Bolsa Grande High School in Garden Grove were stunned by the news that the four, all seniors, face court dates in the killing of a 14-year-old while their classmates are getting ready for Wednesday's graduation ceremonies.

Edward Fernandez was gunned down early Saturday morning after taking a cab from an Internet cafe in Garden Grove. Le and San, both 18, and Nguyen, 17, face charges of murder with gang enhancement allegations in the crime. Nguyen was charged as an adult. Prosecutors added a lying-in-wait allegation to the other charges for Ton, 18, which could make him eligible for the death penalty. He is being held without bail. The other three are being held in lieu of $500,000 bail. Arraignment is scheduled for June 28.

"Everyone is really shocked," Duran said. "They would be the last people that I would expect to be in a gang. They really never got in trouble until now."

While police describe the youngsters as notorious gang members, their school peers call them caring, respectful students who were involved in campus activities. Ton, Nguyen and San were on the school's varsity basketball team. Le is a teacher's assistant for the business law class.

"It's disappointing," said Chris Sanchez, 17, who took the class and described Le as friendly and always joking with students. "I'm struggling to graduate and it's shocking for something like this to happen so close to our graduation. Anything can happen."

Police would not reveal details of the students' records or their alleged gang involvement to protect the ongoing investigation. They still don't know the motive for the shooting, Garden Grove Police Lt. Scott Hamilton said.

The shooting occurred about 12:50 a.m. Saturday at the intersection of Lampson Avenue and Adelle Street after Fernandez and his friends exchanged hostile looks with several youths in the parking lot of the I.C.E. Internet Cafe on Brookhurst Street. Police believe the older teenagers followed the boys' taxicab in one or more cars and that one of them shot the 14-year-old as he paid the cab fare.

Neither police nor prosecutors would identify which suspect they believe was the gunman. Fernandez was not tied to a gang, police said, but they are treating the incident as a gang-involved crime.

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