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Girl, 3, Is Killed in Attack on Father

The parent is seriously wounded by a gunman who police say might have mistaken him for a rival gang member.

September 25, 2006|Erika Hayasaki | Times Staff Writer

A 3-year-old girl was shot and killed Sunday afternoon and her father was seriously wounded as they arrived at their Baldwin Village apartment after a trip to McDonald's, police said.

Cesar Avila, 24, was helping his two daughters get out of the family's car, which was parked in the 4500 block of Pinafore Street, about 2:45 p.m. when two men drove up in a gray Nissan Quest minivan. The passenger got out of the van, walked up to the family and started shooting, Los Angeles Police Officer Michael Lopez said.

Avila was shot several times in the torso and taken to UCLA Medical Center, where he was listed in critical condition. His daughter, Kaitlyn, was pronounced dead at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Deputy Chief Charles Beck, who oversees the Los Angeles Police Department's South Bureau, said the shooting was a tragedy that "hits home for all of us."

He said detectives were pursuing "good leads" and were interviewing possible suspects Sunday evening.

Beck said the two assailants identified themselves as gang members before the shooting. They apparently believed the girl's father belonged to a rival gang, he said, but police have no evidence that he was a gang member.

The men in the van were African American and the victims Latino, police said.

Beck said interracial gang killings are uncommon in the LAPD's Southwest Division.

"We get some," he said, "but not a lot."

Typically, Beck said, gang shootings involve young men of the same race who live in close proximity to each other. The motive in Sunday's shooting, Beck said, appeared to be territorial, not racial.

"What did they shoot her for?" Kaitlyn's 14-year-old cousin, Jesus Rodriguez, said through tears as he stood near the scene of the shooting, the street spattered with blood. "She's a little girl. She didn't do anything wrong."

Jesus and friends of Kaitlyn watched police carry her body away from the peach-and-lime- colored apartment complex on a stretcher.

The cousin, who lives down the block from the family, said he ran outside minutes after the shooting and saw Kaitlyn, wearing pink shorts and a Los Angeles Lakers shirt, lying in the middle of the street. Her mother was crying and screaming. Jesus Rodriguez took the girl's 4-year-old sister inside the family's apartment.

He said she told him, "My sister is dead. They shot her."

"They thought my uncle was from [the] 18th Street gang," Jesus said. "But he wasn't. He doesn't bang."

The youth said he frantically called 911, hoping paramedics would get there in time to save Kaitlyn. He kept telling her sister that Kaitlyn would be OK, but by the time help got there, he said, it was too late.

He said her father, Avila, was bleeding from the back.

Avila's family said he is a Dorsey High School graduate who works with his parents at a glass company.

Rodriguez said Kaitlyn was a happy child with short, dark, curly hair. Her family called her "Morena" because of her dark skin. She followed her older sister everywhere. The two watched television and played games inside their apartment, across the street from Hillcrest Elementary School below Baldwin Hills.

Rodriguez said the girls rarely went outside.

"It's a dangerous neighborhood," Rodriguez said. "Too dangerous to live."

The last time he saw the family before the shooting was Saturday night at a friend's birthday party in their complex. Kaitlyn and her sister played on a jumper toy with other children, while her parents danced to reggaeton music.

"You never know what might happen," said 9-year-old Edwin Cruz, who said he never plays outside. "You might be happy one day and then somebody comes with a gun and shoots you."

Other residents and members of Kaitlyn's family said there has been tension between blacks and Latinos in the neighborhood.

Across the street, an African American mother, Rachel Post, 38, stood with her two children. Her daughter, 10-year-old Naveta Barry, said she hears gunshots from her bedroom and is scared to leave the house.

"It's a shame." Post said. "Both blacks and Mexicans -- We're all struggling for the same jobs and housing. And here we are trying to kill each other."

"The tension now is just going to get worse," Post said, "now that the little girl just got shot."

*

erika.hayasaki@latimes.com

Times staff writer Matt Lait contributed to this report.

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