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Witnesses to Shooting at Party Sought

The victim, a 'friendly, jovial' football player at La Canada High, is in critical condition.

May 27, 2003|Richard Fausset and Teresa Watanabe | Times Staff Writers

An 18-year-old football player from La Canada High School remained in critical condition Monday after being shot in the face during a melee between students from rival schools at a late-night, after-prom party, officials said.

No one has been arrested in the shooting. The victim's name has not been released by authorities.

On Monday, Los Angeles County sheriff's investigators were trying to identify and interview many of the 150 people who were at the post-prom party at a La Canada Flintridge home early Sunday when a fight broke out between students from La Canada and South Pasadena high schools, said Sheriff's Sgt. Don Bee.

Students who attended the party said the rivalry between the two nearby schools had been heating up over the last year, with a number of fights occurring at off-campus parties. Still, the shooting came as a shock to residents of La Canada Flintridge.

"It's absolutely surreal," said one 16-year-old who was at the party. "I'm in a state of disbelief, especially because we have a really nice city.... Everything usually shuts down at 10 o'clock."

After the La Canada High prom Saturday evening at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, a number of students went to a backyard party in the 5100 block of Greencrest Road in La Canada.

According to two La Canada students, who asked that their names not be used for fear of reprisal, adults were supervising the party. One student said some college students were also in attendance. The adults were not serving alcohol, but some partygoers were consuming alcohol that they had brought, the students said.

Sheriff's deputies said the fight began about 2 a.m. and involved about 20 people.

One 17-year-old La Canada student said he was in the backyard when he saw a scuffle about 100 feet away. A number of partygoers rushed over to watch, but when they heard gunfire most ran toward their cars, the witness said.

The fighting continued, with some partygoers using bottles as weapons, the student said. Investigators believe two other partygoers were injured, but they were not at the house when deputies and paramedics arrived, Deputy David Cervantes said.

Bee said it was unclear if the suspect or suspects were students at South Pasadena High School.

According to friends, the victim was a lineman on the La Canada football team, an Eagle Scout and one of the largest members of the senior class.

"He was one of those guys who was really big, but he was also really nice," said a classmate. "That's why I was so surprised when I found out it was him. I don't think there's anybody in the school who doesn't like [him]. He's a big, friendly, jovial guy. In a situation where there was a fight, he'd be there to end it."

Sheriff's deputies and South Pasadena police officials say violence between students at the two schools is rare.

But some area parents remember a similar incident in 1991, when a high school dropout was convicted of second-degree murder for shooting a Crescenta Valley High School basketball star at an after-prom party in Anaheim.

On Monday, friends and neighbors of the boy's family said they were stunned that such a tragedy could occur in what one described as the "safe little hamlet of La Canada," a town of tree-lined streets where the typical home sells for about $736,000.

The friends said they hoped the shooting would foster new awareness about the dangers of alcohol and the need for better parental supervision of student parties. They also said they hoped that administrators at both high schools would set up a discussion forum or other avenues for the two sides to iron out their differences.

"You're expecting your kids to be safe ... ," said one family friend, who spent Monday with others at a local hospital awaiting word of the youth's condition. "We hope [the shooting] will be a wake-up call."

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