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Westside shooting renews concerns

Residents in the South Robertson Boulevard area are shaken by the police killing of a boy with a gun. Last year, a girl died in gang gunfire.

July 20, 2007|Ari B. Bloomekatz and Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writers

An officer-involved shooting that killed a 14-year-old boy armed with a handgun in the South Robertson Boulevard area of Los Angeles this week left residents shaken and renewed their concerns about violent crime in the Westside neighborhood.

Shortly before 10 p.m. Wednesday, two Los Angeles Police Department officers on patrol near Venice Boulevard and Cattaraugus Avenue heard gunshots and allegedly saw Victor Garcia firing into a crowd of apparent rival gang members, police said.

As the officers attempted to intervene, Garcia allegedly pointed a 9-millimeter, semiautomatic pistol in their direction, police said. The officers then fired their weapons, striking him.

Garcia was taken to a local hospital, where he died. Police said Garcia allegedly shot two people at the scene whose injuries were not life-threatening.

"I was hanging out in my neighbor's house and we heard a bunch of gunshots," said Trish Marin, 18, who lives in a nearby apartment building. "I saw one kid holding his arm; he was bleeding. There were two kids with him who were screaming 'call 911!' "

Spattered blood was still visible on neighborhood sidewalks Thursday.

Blanca Rodriguez, 40, who lives in an apartment building on nearby Corning Street, said she saw residents tend to a man's wounds on a worn mattress in the adjacent alley. A blood-stained white sheet still lay on top of the mattress.

Claudia Chavez, Garcia's 21-year-old sister, said her family believed that he was going out to eat at a nearby taco truck.

"I'm upset, I'm sad, I'm confused," Chavez said. "He was shot twice in the chest."

Residents of South Robertson, a mix of modest, singlefamily homes and dense apartment buildings near the 10 Freeway, were rattled by an uptick in violence last summer. A 16-year-old female Hamilton High School student was mortally wounded by gang gunfire while walking with friends.

A Times analysis of LAPD crime data last year showed that the South Robertson neighborhood had about 50% more aggravated assaults and robberies than the area to the immediate south and 20% more than the area immediately north.

The situation was so bad that the Neighborhood Council held a town hall meeting to address the growing problem. Since then, however, law enforcement officials said such violence appeared to be random and on the decline.

But Wednesday's deadly shooting brought back all the old fears and concerns. Some residents said their neighborhood has dueling identities: one is a safe, family friendly area near good schools, the other, a nighttime haven for gangs.

"I like the neighborhood because it is close to everything and there's a lot of schools," said 42-year-old Martha Sanchez, who lives about half a block from the scene of Wednesday's shooting. "But now the safety isn't there."

Sanchez said she heard gunshots about 9:45 p.m. and saw youths running through her neighborhood. Shortly afterward, police helicopters and patrol cars arrived on the scene.

"Oh my, God," Sanchez said Thursday as she walked by a small memorial on Venice Boulevard made up of religious candles depicting saints, sunflowers and white lilies. "Did he die?"

A card attached to the flowers read, "RIP Vic, we love you."

Oscar de la Torre, founder and executive director of the Pico Youth & Family Center, said it is a misconception that lulls in violence in the Westside neighborhood means that the situation is improving. He also said that violence is more likely to occur during summer when youths are out of school.

"Unlike South L.A. or East L.A., the Westside violence, especially gang or youth violence, is sporadic," De la Torre said. "You have these pockets of poverty on the Westside where young people are losing hope, and anywhere that youth are losing hope, it's a formula for self destruction."

ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com

andrew.blankstein@latimes .com

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