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L.A. Police Seek Help in Slayings of 2 Teenagers

Joseph Swift, 13, and Marquise Pickens, 14, are the latest victims of random violence. The two are killed in separate street attacks.

March 25, 2003|Jill Leovy | Times Staff Writer

In the moments before he was shot, 13-year-old Joseph Arthur Swift "was so scared," his mother said a day after he became one of two boys to die within moments of each other on Los Angeles streets.

Swift was in a crowd of young people leaving church when shots were fired from both sides of a passing car. His mother, Lorri Arbuckle, arrived just in time to hear him speak for the last time.

The second victim, Marquise Pickens, 14, was shot and killed about the same time a few miles away while standing on the sidewalk in front of a mini-mall.

Police put out pleas for help in both shootings.

"This should shock the conscience of the entire community," said Capt. Kirk Albanese.

"A 13-year-old boy left a Bible study on a sunny Sunday afternoon and died in a hail of gunfire."

At a news conference, William Arbuckle, Swift's grandfather, called for greater concern over the problem of violence on Los Angeles streets.

"We need to pay more attention to the war going on here. You take care of home first," Arbuckle said. "It's not supposed to be this way."

Swift and Pickens represent the younger edge of a severe homicide problem that is most concentrated among black and Latino youths a few years older -- the most likely people in Los Angeles to become homicide victims, according to statistics compiled by the Los Angeles County coroner's office. Eleven percent of all adolescent homicide victims in the county are ages 10 through 14.

The killings Sunday followed the murder last week of another boy, Savona Krouch, also 14 years old. Krouch was shot on a Long Beach street while walking with friends, and died later at a hospital. A 21-year-old man, Anthony Michael Vasquez of Long Beach, was charged with the murder.

Of the 220 boys that old who have died in Los Angeles County in the last 10 years, 55 were black -- a rate that is more than double the percentage of blacks in the population.

Swift, was an eighth-grader at Audubon Middle School. Police said many witnesses to the Swift shooting "melted away." Getting witnesses to give information in homicides is notoriously difficult in South Los Angeles, where there is widespread distrust of the police.

Begging for justice, Swift's mother said Monday that her son told her he loved her just before he died.

Arbuckle spoke through sobs, and was so distraught she was unable to stand, clinging to relatives as she spoke of the murder. "They took him from me. They took my son. My baby," she said.

Overcome, she collapsed shortly afterward, and was taken to a hospital by an ambulance.

Police said the boy was shot while talking to his friends in a driveway at 1810 West Boulevard.

Shortly before, he had walked out of the First Presbyterian Church across the street after attending services there.

The suspects drove by in a white, American-model, four-door car with tinted windows, shooting in both directions out the windows into groups of passersby, said Capt. Kirk Albanese of the LAPD's Wilshire division.

Police are asking anyone with information to call (213) 473-0444, or (213) 485-4022 after hours.

Even the officers who responded to the scene were extremely shaken by the killing, Albanese said, adding: "We will stay on it until we solve it."

Swift was described by friends and family members as a very outgoing and active boy -- "mischievous but not delinquent," in the words of his grandfather.

"A sparkler," said Curtis Randolph, the youth pastor at the church. "He was boisterous and loquacious. You had to love Joey -- he wouldn't let you do otherwise. He was full of surprises. He had this charisma and charm. He was full of joy, and -- my God."

Swift had talked of wanting to be a minister and had joined a youth group at the church on his own; his mother attended a different church.

His older brother was the group's vice president, Randolph said.

Randolph said he ran over after hearing the shots, and saw Joseph lying on the ground.

"You know what happens in a shooting?" he asked. "You go into shock. I feel like I am in a bubble. I can see it, but I can't feel it. My mind refuses to believe it. I walked out and saw a hole in him, and blood trickling. He had his shirt up, and he was looking for the bullet and he couldn't find it. It was inside him, tearing him up."

The boy was taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead in the operating room.

The Rev. Catherine Hughes of First Presbyterian said that her church had tried to reach out to neighborhood youth because she considered the church a safe place for kids to hang out.

She was in the parking lot when the bullets rang out, and hit the ground. She rose and saw that the windows of her car had been blown out, and realized the bullets had missed her by a few feet.

As paramedics treated Swift, she assembled church members to pray.

Kids in the neighborhood "told me they only felt safe at the church," Hughes said. "Then this happens at the church, so where is the safe place?"

Among those who spoke was Swift's 17-year-old brother, Phillip Harris, a slim basketball player still in braces, who spoke shyly. "I just want to say my little brother died yesterday and I am going to miss him," he said, then broke down.

The second fatal shooting claimed Marquise Pickens, who was standing with several companions outside a shopping center in the 3200 block of W. Slauson Avenue about 2 p.m.

A pedestrian came up, exchanged angry words with Pickens and his friends, then pulled out a handgun and fired several shots, said Det. Rocky Sato of the 77th Street division of the LAPD.

Pickens died at the scene, and his companion, Courtney Thomas, also 14 years old, was hospitalized in stable condition, Sato said.

The suspect, described as a black male on foot, about 5 foot 9 and 130 pounds, wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and wielding a handgun, fled south on Crenshaw Boulevard.

Police are asking anyone with information on the shooting to call detectives at (213) 485-1383.

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