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3 Men Killed in Shootings in South L.A.

Two victims connected to the same church are gunned down within hours. A third is found slain near a ball field.

October 03, 2003|Jill Leovy | Times Staff Writer

An exceptionally violent night took the lives of three people within a few hours in South Los Angeles, including two young men connected to the same Catholic church, authorities said Thursday.

"There is little we can do," lamented Father Peter Banks of St. Lawrence of Brindisi Church.

He had spent Thursday visiting the survivors of a teenager slain on his way home from Bible study at the church, and then the church's first Latina parishioner, whose son also had been slain.

The string of unrelated shootings in the space of a few blocks in the Watts area began in the late afternoon Wednesday, when Sergio Soto, 28, was driving with a companion on 92nd Street at Holmes Avenue. Police said Soto and his passenger were struck with bullets fired from a passing car. Soto's car careened out of control and crashed. Bystanders took both victims to the hospital, where Soto died.

A few hours later, in the Nickerson Gardens housing project near the intersection of 114th Street and Central Avenue, police heard a volley of shots coming from a baseball field.

Police ran there and nearly stumbled over the body of Julius Carr, 29, who had been shot moments before, about 8 p.m. The Los Angeles Police Department closed off the housing development to search the area, but no one was arrested.

Then, about 10 p.m., Sergio Lozano, 18, and an usher from St. Lawrence were returning after escorting a companion in a wheelchair home from a Bible study class at the church.

Near the intersection of 104th Street and South Grandee Avenue, they passed three young men standing on the street, who turned and fired for no apparent reason, said Det. Sal LaBarbera of the LAPD's Southeast Division.

Banks, the priest, said Soto's mother had been the first Latina to join the church in the 1970s, when most of Watts was still black, and only a few Latinos had moved into the area. A mother of seven, she is a regular worshipper. She called Thursday to advise that she would not attend a class that day because her son had been killed, she told church workers quietly.

Then, on Thursday morning, church workers were told of the second shooting involving one of their congregation of 2,000, now three-quarters Latino and one-quarter black. The usher had brought her neighbor, Lozano, to Bible study for the first time Wednesday night, said church business manager Teresa Perez.

The usher also had a regular habit of escorting another parishioner, a woman in a wheelchair, to Bible study. So Lozano accompanied the two women as they left the church on foot, seeing the parishioner in her wheelchair to her home a short distance away.

Lozano fell where he was hit, but Perez said the usher, who was shot in the back and seriously injured, managed to walk three blocks to call for help. She was later hospitalized. Lozano died at the scene.

Banks spoke of Soto's mother as one of the church's most adored members. When he went to visit her Thursday, he found her standing in the middle of her frontyard, crying. She asked only that he pray for her, he said. In her face, Banks said, he saw "not despair, but emptiness, this terrible emptiness."

He visited the usher, who was in intensive care in a hospital. "And I didn't see a trace of anger in this woman," he said. "I feel sad sometimes when Watts is only portrayed as violent," Banks said before going back to work. "The world sees only crime, but I see only saints ... heroes in the middle of this city."

Police are seeking information on all three crimes. Those with tips should call (213) 485-6902.

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