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Killing Highlights Brutal Border

Slain teen lived on gritty east side of Robertson; to the west is a wealthy area with far less crime.

July 14, 2006|Arin Gencer and Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writers

In the area around Hamilton High School, the distance of a few city blocks can mean the difference between a million-dollar home on a tree-lined street and a block of dense apartments struggling with crime and blight.

The slaying earlier this week of 16-year-old Hamilton student Ana Interiano has evoked sadness over her loss but also highlighted a stark economic and social divide along a stretch of Robertson Boulevard on the Westside.

Los Angeles police said that Ana was walking home from summer school on Tuesday when someone stepped out of a white sport utility vehicle and fired several rounds down an alley near Robertson and Cadillac Avenue. Police said Ana had no gang ties and appeared to be an innocent victim. They believe the assailants were gang members and that some of the classmates walking with Ana may have had a gang affiliation.

Late Thursday, two young Latino males were shot to death at Cadillac and South Garth avenues, mere blocks from Tuesday's shooting. The latest shootings, which appeared to be gang-related, occurred at about 8:15 p.m. as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa attended a nearby vigil for Ana, police said.

Ana lived with her family in one of the apartments east of the high school. The east side of Robertson includes rows of apartments as well as more expensive single-family homes.

On the west side of Robertson are the affluent communities of Beverlywood and Cheviot Hills, where the choicest real estate approaches Beverly Hills standards.

A Times analysis of last year's LAPD crime records tells the tale: There were 121 assaults and robberies in the neighborhood around Cadillac Avenue east of Robertson Boulevard. To the west of the boulevard, there was one robbery and no assaults.

People who live on the east side of Robertson said their neighborhood has come a long way in the last few years.

Real estate values have risen, and new residents have come in to renovate old houses.

Still, they said, crime remains a problem -- especially tagging and scattered gang activity. There was a drive-by shooting in May.

"It's tragic, but we've been kind of waiting for the shoe to drop," said the Rev. Howard Dotson, the pastor of Palms Westminster Presbyterian Church near Hamilton High.

People come home and gang members say, "No, you can't park here.... We own this neighborhood," said Connie Collins, president of the La Cienega Heights Community Group.

Collins said she is constantly sending out e-mail to police officers and the neighborhood attorney, forwarding residents' concerns about suspected gang members harassing residents.

Guru-Parkash Khalsa, who has lived in the neighborhood for about 18 years, said he has noticed more tagging in recent years -- something he attributes mostly to youths buying into "a culture of glorifying the gang-bangers."

His family was at home when Ana was shot, and heard noises like firecrackers that turned out to be gunfire, Khalsa said.

"It was practically right across the street from our house," Khalsa said. "It was a little too close for comfort."

Councilman Jack Weiss, whose district includes Beverlywood and Cheviot Hills, said residents began asking more questions at community meetings after the drive-by shooting in May.

"Fundamentally, this remains a safe neighborhood, but there's no question that this is where gentrification and some lingering, persistent urban problems intersect," Weiss said.

Councilman Herb Wesson, who represents part of the east side of Robertson, said it will take a united effort by neighbors, the city and the LAPD to make a difference.

"They do not live in an island," Wesson said of communities on either side of the boulevard. "Emotions and drama could explode on their side of the street."

He noted that the city was already working to give the area a face-lift by repaving alleys and making it easier for police to navigate the cluster of apartment buildings by marking their addresses on the walls that face the alleys.

Wesson recalled being shocked when, as a new arrival in Los Angeles from Cleveland more than 20 years ago, he saw a man shot in the head in the middle of the street near his apartment at Sherbourne Drive near Cadillac Avenue.

On Tuesday, a generation later and a few blocks from Wesson's old apartment, it was Ana's shooting that stunned neighbors.

"Ana Banana" to friends, she had just started summer school, her family said. She wanted to be a model or physical therapist and loved to dance to reggaeton, said Suyapa Espinoza, 26, one of her sisters.

Ana liked to party. A few months ago, her older sisters took her to Silver Lake for a "girls' night out" -- her first trip to a club, Espinoza said. And at Espinoza's wedding in March, she added, Ana's "main concern ... was, 'When can we get the party started?' "

But Ana also loved sports. She had played softball since she was 5, said her mother, Nohemi Martinez.

The night before she was shot, as they were talking in the family kitchen, Ana told her mother she wanted to start playing softball again, Martinez said.

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