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Girl's accused killer straddles a racial divide

Jonathan Fajardo, the Latino gang member jailed in the shooting of a black teen, is part Creole. His mother agonizes over his future.

March 10, 2007|Sam Quinones | Times Staff Writer

Jonathan Fajardo is a member of a Latino gang from Harbor Gateway that has a history of attacking blacks.

He is accused of gunning down a 14-year-old girl he did not know just because she was black and, a month later, of helping to kill a possible witness, who was stabbed 80 times.

His alleged crimes have highlighted interracial gang violence in parts of Los Angeles and beyond, drawing attention from the FBI director, mayor, police chief and community leaders.

But there is a lesser-known fact about the 18-year-old typed plainly on his booking record.

Jonathan Fajardo is black -- at least in part.

His mother is Mexican and his father is a Creole whose parents are from Belize. He has three half-sisters and a half-brother who are as dark as his victim, Cheryl Green.

His sister was engaged to a black man with whom Fajardo was on good terms. A cousin is dating a black friend of Green's family.

Why Fajardo ended up where he is -- charged with two notorious gang crimes -- is hard for his family to fathom.

"He knows he has black blood," said his mother, Luz Andrade, who like other relatives cannot recall Fajardo making racist remarks. "He's had black people around him all his life."

At his arraignment Thursday, Fajardo pleaded not guilty.

If convicted in either case, he could face the death penalty.

Little about Fajardo's life offers neat explanations for where he is today.

Though his father deserted his mother before he was born, he grew up, one of four children, in an orderly and apparently loving home.

At 13, his mother said, he was an all-star soccer player and Pony League pitcher, a cheerful kid with a beautiful grin who listened to his mother.

"I always thought I would see him on the news, but as a great athlete," Andrade said. "That's how I pictured him on TV -- not as the most wanted."

But at 14, the gang -- and later methamphetamine -- took hold of him like a cult, she said.

Nothing else mattered; not sports, family or heritage.

"He would see me crying, pleading with him, and he would just walk out the door and go with his friends," Andrade said.

Luz Andrade moved to Harbor Gateway, a long strip of land connecting the bulk of Los Angeles to the harbor, to get away from the gangs of South Los Angeles.

She was heartened by the Torrance mailing address.

"As soon as I heard Torrance, I said, 'My kids are going to go to better schools.' "

But, because Harbor Gateway is part of Los Angeles, the Torrance school district turned away her youngsters.

Budding athlete

Fearing for her son's safety as he approached junior high, Andrade took a second job as a secretary at Coast Christian School in Torrance so he could attend at reduced tuition.

By then, he had become an avid athlete. His family's free time was spent at parks in Hawthorne, where relatives lived, watching him, his sisters and their cousins play baseball and soccer.

He was selected for all-star teams. Coaches argued over whom he would play for.

"A lot of people saw such great potential because of his ability in sports," said his aunt, Juana Rivas.

He was a happy, even-tempered kid, his family said. When he slacked off academically, his mother brought him into line by threatening to keep him off the field.

But at 14, he grew withdrawn. He began talking back to teachers, cutting class. He hung out near the Del Amo Market, the area's only business, where gang members congregated.

After work, Andrade would go out looking for him. She would haul him home, but he would sneak out when she was asleep. Sometimes she would stay up to stop him, but the next day she would be exhausted at her job as a restaurant manager.

He was arrested, first for shooting a bird with a BB gun, then for curfew violations.

At night, he would joy-ride in Andrade's car. He also drove his sister's car without a license, and was arrested again.

Andrade enrolled him in a police-run weekend boot camp for youths drifting into gangs. There he met 204th Street gang members. All of them, including Fajardo, were ejected from the program for being disruptive.

One day, Andrade was off work and wanted to take her children bowling. But Fajardo had vanished. She drove around, finding him near the Del Amo Market with other youths.

"I told him ... 'I don't want you hanging around them,' " she said. "He just said, 'I'm one of them.' "

He stayed with his friends that night. She cried all the way to the bowling alley.

The gang he joined had been attacking blacks for almost a decade. At least five blacks are believed to have been killed by 204th Street members since 1997; numerous others have been shot or shot at.

Before his gang days, Fajardo had a black friend in the neighborhood. Jason Watson remembers him as "a cool little kid." They would play video games at each other's houses.

"I stopped hanging out with him for the simple fact that he became a 204 [gang member]. They're racist to the core," said Watson, now a college student.

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