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Second Graffiti-Removal Worker Is Shot to Death

The victim was killed while leaving the Boyle Heights offices of Homeboy Industries, which provides jobs to former gang members.

August 04, 2004|Jason Felch | Times Staff Writer

A graffiti-removal worker with Homeboy Industries was fatally shot while driving away from the group's Boyle Heights headquarters Tuesday, nearly six weeks after a colleague was killed while painting over tags six blocks away.

Residents in the working-class neighborhood, still mourning the first death, were shocked by the second, which occurred during midday at the busy intersection of East 1st and Cummings streets, half a block from the Hollenbeck police station.

Police detectives said the two homicides did not appear to be linked. In the June 24 shooting, police believe the victim was shot by a gang member angry that the graffiti was being painted over.

In Tuesday's killing, detectives said they were doubtful the victim's job or connection to Homeboy Industries was a factor.

Det. Carey Ricard said the organization provides jobs to former gang members who are trying to turn their lives around.

"Homeboy Industries is neutral territory, but when you leave, you're back in someone's turf," Ricard said.

The mood was sullen Tuesday afternoon at the normally bustling Homeboy headquarters, just 100 yards from the site of the killing. Moments after the shots were heard, Homeboy participants ran outside and watched as their wounded friend was pulled from the program's graffiti-removal vehicle. He was taken to County-USC Medical Center, where he died of his wounds, police said. His identity was not released.

Later, a clutch of Homeboy teens stood in a circle looking at a group photo of graffiti-removal workers, pointing out the two homicide victims.

"Every person on his crew was his enemy at one point," said Father Gregory Boyle, Homeboy Industries founder, of Tuesday's young homicide victim. "Through working together, they became a family."

Homeboy Industries, whose motto "Jobs not Jails" is emblazoned on participants' T-shirts, brings together former gang rivals to work together on community improvement projects and other jobs.

Boyle saw no connection between the two slayings. "We want to make sense out of it, but violence is the most irrational thing," he said before leaving to comfort the victim's family.

Jose Lopez, who has lived in Boyle Heights for 35 years, believes that Boyle and his group are doing a good job. "He wants to reform the chamacos [young people], but they're so young, I don't think they leave their problems outside."

A few weeks ago, Lopez said, he had been painting over graffiti near his home when a car full of youths pulled up, pointed a shotgun at him and told him to stop erasing their tags.

"You're covering their letters, and that's their identity, their gang, their family," one resident said. "It's like pouring water on them."

Detectives said Tuesday's slaying was particularly brazen, even for the area. "A large proportion of homicides recently have been in broad daylight in busy intersections," Det. Scott Smith said.

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