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Woman dies in dispute over graffiti

The Hesperia resident is the second Southland victim in two weeks to be killed after confronting alleged gang members over tagging.

August 25, 2007|Jonathan Abrams | Times Staff Writer

A 65-year-old Hesperia woman was shot and killed Thursday evening after she and family members confronted taggers spray-painting graffiti on their apartment wall and trash cans.

Authorities arrested the alleged triggerman, Ricardo Real, 19, of Hesperia, Friday afternoon on suspicion of murder and were searching for at least three other suspects, said San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Jodi Miller.

The shooting comes two weeks after a 57-year-old Pico Rivera woman was gunned down after she tried to stop taggers from spray-painting graffiti in her neighborhood, a slaying that outraged surrounding communities.

Law enforcement authorities across Southern California say they are seeing an increase in violence related to tagging associated with street gangs.

Seutatia Tausili of Hesperia was shot about 8:30 p.m. Thursday after she and other family members approached several people spray-painting their apartment complex on First Avenue.

An argument turned into a fight, Miller said.

"All we wanted to know is why they were doing it," said Vasa Ptnesapele, Tausili's grandson, who said he was among the family members who approached the taggers.

"My grandmother was letting them know we were going to call the police. A couple of them started mouthing off to our grandmother. They wanted to fight and it turned into self- defense. Next thing we know, we hear six shots."

Vaovasa Penu, another of Tausili's grandsons, was shot in the leg during the incident.

He was treated and released from Arrowhead Regional Medical Center.

Tausili, who suffered a single gunshot wound to the chest, died about an hour later at Desert Valley Hospital in Victorville, Miller said.

"She was always there," Ptnesapele said. "She was everything a person could ask for. She took care of us.

"She was the heart of the family."

Ptnesapele said the taggers had recently moved into the area from Los Angeles and lived on the other side of the apartment complex.

"Tagging is an issue almost everywhere," Miller said. "You can drive down the street and see multiple taggings in most areas. In this particular area, there has been tagging before."

San Bernardino County has witnessed a sharp uptick in graffiti over the last decade, especially in the high desert, as its population and the number of street gang members has grown.

Miller said that because the incident occurred in the early evening, people were around to confront the taggers.

"A lot of times, it happens at night when most people are sleeping," she said. "This was going on when people were awake and able to go out and approach them."

San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department homicide investigators arrested Real after he was located by a multi-agency high desert gang task force, which used the graffiti to help identify gang members associated with the incident.

"Homicide detectives had been out there all night," Miller said.

"Through the investigation, they were able to determine Real as the likely triggerman and arrest him."

Two weeks ago in Pico Rivera, Maria Hicks was on her way home when she was killed after confronting taggers in her neighborhood.

Four suspected gang members were charged with murder in that case.

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jonathan.abrams@latimes.com

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