Police called the triple homicide in southwest Los Angeles this week gang-related and a hint of growing violence. A devastated family called it heartbreaking.
The father of one victim, a native Texan, dressed in a vest, pressed jeans and straw hat, sat on his porch Tuesday, down the street from where his son was fatally shot. He was slowly smoking a curved pipe and weeping, as friends and relatives came by to offer condolences.
L.H. Byrd told of how his son, Brian, was the youngest of seven children. Brian was killed Monday evening. His father said he was the wayward one of six brothers. An older brother, by contrast, serves in the Navy and was deployed to Kuwait for the war.
Since Monday, the family said they had been trying to reach this brother through the Red Cross, without success, to tell him his brother had been killed.
Brian Byrd, 23, and Ty Elliott Wilson, 22, were shot to death in a possible exchange of gunfire at a house in the 4800 block of 2nd Avenue just after 6 p.m. Monday, and a third man, Damon Burris, 32, died later, after his friends tried to drive him to a hospital.
The Byrd family had been worrying every day about their son in the Middle East, they said. The irony of losing a son at home instead was not lost on them.
"You tell President Bush that when he is through deploying troops over there, they should send them back here to finish this war," said a family friend who appeared about Brian's age and identified himself only as Ron.
"And I mean finish," he added, "because it is still going on."
A few balloons and candles had been left at the crime scene. Victims and neighbors were grieving and shaken.
"I want it to stop," said Byrd, 67, Brian's father. He retired after 40 years with the Greyhound Lines bus company.
The shootings prompted police officials to fret about a possible surge in violence in South Los Angeles, breaking what has been a relative lull.
Homicides citywide have fallen off sharply this year, led by declines in deaths in this part of the city, traditionally the most violent swath. But officials worried that an increase in nonfatal shootings, in addition to 13 homicides in the last week, may portend a return to 2002 levels of violence.
An average of about 13 people were killed every week in Los Angeles last year. So far this year, the average weekly toll has been about nine per week.
But significantly, "over the last few weeks, the numbers of shootings here have increased dramatically," said Cmdr. Richard Roupoli of the LAPD's South Bureau.
These shooting numbers suggest that part of the 32% decline in homicides in South Los Angeles this year may have occurred simply because shots missed. South Bureau officers responded to 71 "shots fired" calls last week, just 12% shy of the number reported the same week last year.
The triple homicide in which Brian Byrd died took place just after 6 p.m. Monday when a van full of men fired shots into a house on 2nd Avenue, south of the Santa Monica Freeway and west of Western Avenue, police said. Byrd was struck while standing in the yard; Wilson died inside the house from bullets that burst through walls and windows, said police and neighbors. Another man, Dante Miller, 20, was wounded; he was treated and released from a local hospital.
LAPD Det. Stanley Evans called the gunfire "continuous," and said it was unclear Tuesday whether anyone had fired back at the van from the house or yard.
Police said they believed that Burris had been in the van. He had been driven to a hospital by his friends, a common practice in South Los Angeles, especially after gang shootings, police said. His friends first took him to the wrong place -- a local clinic without the means to treat him. He apparently bled to death on the way.
Police said they seized marijuana and money from the murder scene, and were still seeking suspects late Tuesday.
Darryllyn Burch, a neighbor and friend of Byrd and Wilson, said she was sitting in a parked car when the van rolled by.
The bullets, Burch said, "sounded like fireworks -- like someone lit a whole pack up. They just kept going, going, going."
She ran out to see Byrd lying in front of the house. Although he appeared to be unconscious, his eyes were open, she said, and he was gasping. A neighbor who is a nurse, and who has known him since childhood, was bending over him, trying to help.
Burch ran inside the house to see who else had been hit. She saw Wilson on the kitchen floor, blood all around him, she said.
Burch said she was angry that police had reported the crime as gang-related, saying the victims were not involved in gangs.
"I don't know why they would target anyone here," she said. "This is a neutral block."
The issue of gang membership is frequently touchy after a homicide, and police, family, and friends of victims often disagree about how homicides are classified.