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Taft High Parents Seek Assurances After Shooting Attack Near School

More than 150 attend a forum to express concerns about their children's safety.

September 12, 2003|Michael Krikorian | Times Staff Writer

As the condition of three students shot outside Taft High School improved and police searched for the attackers, more than 150 parents met with school officials Thursday evening at the Woodland Hills campus.

"I'm very concerned, and I need reassurances about the security here," said Michelle Jenkins of Reseda, whose son was at the bus stop where the Tuesday shooting occurred. "I picked this school because I was told it was one of the safest in the city. But this has certainly set us back."

An announcement that school police would post an additional officer on campus until the shooters were arrested brought strong applause, but parents were still uneasy.

"I'm very unhappy and upset that these dirtbags haven't been caught yet," said Reseda resident Wes Thorsten, whose twin daughters attend Taft.

Parent Marcia Weiss of Woodland Hills said she is "thinking about pulling my son out of here. My son doesn't have the street smarts to deal with this."

Shouting erupted after one parent said that her son had told her that, just before the shooting, an empty MTA bus had slowed at the stop where nearly 100 students waited and then pulled away. Parents yelled that that happens frequently, leaving their children stranded.

A Metropolitan Transportation Authority official told the parents that the driver had determined the crowd was too large and unruly for him to handle. Drivers, he said, are allowed to use their own judgment about whether to stop.

Bob Collins, regional superintendent for the Los Angeles Unified School District, said he would call for an investigation by the MTA.

Parents also complained that the main intersection near the school -- Winnetka Avenue and Ventura Boulevard -- is so busy that they cannot pull up to pick up their children, and therefore must depend on public transit.

Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine told the parents that "it infuriates me that you can't stand on Winnetka and Ventura in the daylight at a bus stop and not get shot. That is not acceptable."

The shooting occurred about 2 p.m. as scores of teenagers gathered at the bus stop after school. Two or three males in a red Mitsubishi pulled up and issued a street gang challenge to a Taft student. Seconds later, the front-seat passenger fired into the crowd, missing the intended target, but hitting three other students, police said.

Los Angeles Police Department officials told parents that they have devoted 50 officers to the case and that investigators have identified the two gangs involved in the shooting. Both are based in the San Fernando Valley. Police officials also appealed to area residents for help, saying that a tip from a community member led to the quick arrest of three men suspected of shooting and killing a 15-year-old girl and a 13-year-old boy on 54th Street in South L.A. on Wednesday night.

"We quickly made an arrest in that case because a citizen wrote down the getaway car's license plate and called us," said LAPD Assistant Deputy Chief Jim McDonald. "We got a lucky break because the community there came forward. We all need to get involved. We're not going to tolerate this."

The wounded Taft students are Lizbeth Santana, 17, Agustin Galindo, 16, and Paul Herzlich, 15.

Herzlich, the most seriously injured, is in stable condition at UCLA Medical Center, authorities said. "Paul's doing a lot better today," Taft's interim principal, Pete Ferry, said Thursday.

Ferry visited Santana at Northridge Hospital Medical Center and Galindo at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills. Both are in stable condition.

"They were both speaking and doing better, and they both thanked me for visiting," he said.

Although attendance at Taft was down considerably on Wednesday, when 357 students were absent, Thursday's attendance was higher than on the day of the shooting, Ferry said.

School officials reported 218 absences Thursday, compared with 229 on Tuesday at Taft, which has an enrollment of about 3,400.

"I think now that the kids know that their fellow students are not mortally wounded and are going to be OK, the mood is a lot better," Ferry said. "I'm very proud of our students. They are handling this very well."

Times staff writer Monte Morin contributed to this report.

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