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Gunman Opens Fire at School

Two students are hurt in the attack at a South L.A. campus. The incident spurs calls for greater community action to combat gangs.

March 06, 2004|Arlene Martinez | Times Staff Writer

A gunman opened fire on a group of 20 students gathered in front of a South Los Angeles charter school before class Friday morning, wounding two teenagers and prompting calls for more community action against gang violence.

Police said that four to six shots rang out at Soledad Enrichment Action Charter School at around 7:35 a.m. just as students were arriving. A 17-year-old boy was hit in the lower back and a 16-year-old girl was hit in the leg. The students were quickly pulled into the school and taken to Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center, where both were listed in good condition.

The gunman appeared to target the boy in what might have been a gang-related dispute, said Lt. Art Miller of the Los Angeles Police Department. "The girl didn't appear to be an intended victim," he said.

After the shooting, the gunman ran across Manchester Avenue and got into a late-1990s model white Toyota, which was waiting for him, according to authorities.

Many parents picked up their children after the shooting. A counselor was brought in to help students cope with the ordeal, said Soledad Enrichment Action Chief Operations Officer Cesar Calderon.

Soledad Enrichment Action Charter School, under the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles County Office of Education, has 18 locations. Its students are high-risk youths who dropped out or were expelled from traditional high schools, or who are on probation.

About 100 students attend the Manchester Avenue location, which borders St. Michael's Elementary School.

"It's for youth considered throwaways by the system," said Calderon. "They've made a commitment to change their lives. They're trying to make it."

Escalating tension among area gangs is of growing concern, said one community activist, Father David O'Connell of St. Michael's Church. The church owns the building that is rented out by the charter school.

"The kids are shaken. We need community intervention to deal with it," O'Connell said. "People are making efforts but what's been done is not enough. None of us are doing enough to make the community safe."

O'Connell said Soledad is an important resource in the community and that students there need to feel safe. The school "helps turn people's lives around," he said. "I've seen it work."

Members of Networks Organizing for Gang Unity and Neighborhood Safety, or NO GUNS, have been talking with gang members and their families in recent weeks, trying to stem what they say is increased violence.

Robert Hayes, intervention counselor for NO GUNS, estimated that in the four-block area surrounding the school, there are six active gangs. Many gang members, Hayes said, "don't take education seriously and the ones that try to can't because someone walks in and shoots at them."

Starting Monday, extra patrols will monitor the school in the morning and afternoon, and students will not be allowed to gather in front of the building, Calderon said.

Calderon said the shooting is the first violent incident since the school opened at that location nearly eight years ago.

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