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Cross-racial shootings spark fear in Monrovia

Deputies and police are cracking down on gangs after attacks involving blacks and Latinos increase.

January 31, 2008|Sam Quinones, Paloma Esquivel and Molly Hennessy-Fiske | Times Staff Writers

A spasm of cross-racial gang shootings in and around the San Gabriel Valley city of Monrovia has left a 64-year-old African American man and a 16-year-old Latina dead and prompted a law enforcement crackdown to stem the bloodshed.

In all, seven people have been killed or wounded in recent weeks, as suspected black and Latino gang members have traded gunfire. At least two of those killed have been bystanders, authorities said.

In a series of high-profile operations in recent days, a police task force has served search warrants and arrested three suspects -- one Latino and two blacks. After three shootings in the last week, Monrovia police and the L.A. County Sheriff's Department have saturated schools and neighborhoods north and south of the Foothill Freeway with additional patrols. Parents have been warned to keep close tabs on their children.

"A lot of these kids are terrified right now because somebody out there is playing for real," said Monrovia High School Principal Frank Zepeda, who has been fielding e-mails and phone calls from concerned parents.

Speculation was spreading Wednesday among students that the violence was racially motivated. Xavier Gaytan, 17, a junior, said he has noticed tensions between blacks and Latinos on campus, apart from the recent violence.

"Sometimes you see all the blacks get together on one side and all the Mexicans together on the other side," he said. "Fights sometimes break out over somebody giving somebody else the wrong look."

Some authorities say the recent violence is chiefly about dominance on the streets. The flare-up involves historic rivals: a long-established black street gang, the Du Roc Crips, and two Latino gangs, Monrovia Nuevo Vario and Duarte Eastside.

"I don't see it being race-related because the issues between these . . . gangs have been going on forever," said sheriff's Capt. Richard Shaw, who is heading a new task force dispatched to the area. The shootings are a reflection of gang culture, not racial conflict, he said.

Helping fan fears in largely tranquil Monrovia, which has been used as a setting for the TV series "Picket Fences" and film depictions of middle America, was the killing Saturday of 16-year-old Samantha Salas. She was walking home from a market near Peck Road. Her father, whom she was visiting, had given her permission to buy some gum.

"She had to have her Orbitz gum," Samuel Salas said in an interview Wednesday at his home. "You saw the flowers outside on the sidewalk. That's how far she made it."

Samantha Salas, a sophomore at Alhambra High School, was shot eight times, according to a law enforcement source. She and a girlfriend from Monrovia High School, who was wounded, appeared to have been singled out in an attack with "racial overtones," though neither was a gang member, sheriff's Lt. Dan Rosenberg said.

Sheriff Lee Baca has promised to clamp down on the area's gangs, calling the Salas shooting "a brutal way of killing an innocent person."

Investigators from several agencies swarmed a Monrovia neighborhood Tuesday night. On Jan. 13, Sanders Rollins, 64, was gunned down in his front yard. Investigators suspect Rollins was an innocent victim in a payback shooting for the killing of two Latinos in Duarte last month.

Rayshawn Lamar Blackwell, 22, and Nickelis Darnell Blackwell, 25, who authorities said were nephews of Rollins' and lived at the residence, were arrested on suspicion of attempted murder in a separate case. Officials said the charges were not related to the recent killings, but additional details were not available.

As police and sheriff's deputies gathered evidence and made arrests Tuesday night, 19-year-old Brandon Lee, a former football player at Duarte High School, was shot and killed in his yard, a few blocks away. Lee's father, Willie, 43, said his son was not a gang member, but may have been seen with people who were. His son left the neighborhood a few years ago after being wounded in a shooting, he said, but recently returned to attend community college.

"They are not just targeting my son," he said. "It's on all blacks, all Mexicans. Something's going on between them."

Also arrested Tuesday was a Duarte suspect linked to a Jan. 12 shooting that left a black 16-year-old boy paralyzed.

At the Canadian Cafe in downtown Monrovia, which has seen a development revival in recent years, the talk Wednesday was all about gangs.

"This is a big thing in Monrovia -- three shootings in a week," said waitress Crystal Ramos. Normally, "you're not afraid to go outside at night. Now I have to take detours. I have to be careful of which street I take."

Across the street from the Peck Road apartment complex where Samantha Salas was killed, two-story homes can be seen above a large brick wall that encloses a recently built subdivision. A resident of the development said he heard gunshots Saturday night, ran to his master bedroom window and saw the two girls lying on the ground.

"People in this neighborhood are scared to let their children play outside," he said.

Monrovia officials scheduled a news conference for this morning, where they were expected to outline efforts to stamp out the violence.

"We're determined this is going to stop and stop fast," said Dick Singer, a city spokesman.

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Times staff writer Rich Connell contributed to this report.

sam.quinones@latimes.com

paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

molly.hennessy-fiske @latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Shootings

Authorities are investigating a spate of cross-racial gang shootings in Monrovia and surrounding communities.

1. 500 block of Almond Ave.

Tuesday: Brandon Lee, a 19-year-old black man, killed

2. 1200 block of Sherman Ave.

Jan. 13: Sanders Rollins, a 64-year-old black man, killed

3. 2500 block of Peck Rd.

Jan. 12: A black 16-year-old boy, wounded

Jan. 26: Samantha Salas, a 16-year-old Latina, killed, and her teenage friend wounded

(END TEXT OF INFOBOX)

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