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Elderly shopkeeper fatally shot in 'senseless crime'

Fereidoun Kohanim, 72, known for handing out free candy to children at his 98-cent store in the Pico-Union area, was shot in the back of the head after three alleged gang members entered his shop.

December 23, 2009|By Esmeralda Bermudez and Andrew Blankstein
  • Two of three suspects, all alleged gang members, are caught on a surveillance video attempting to rob Fereidoun Kohanim, 72, at his store. When he turned around to fend off the third man, he was shot in the back of the head.
Two of three suspects, all alleged gang members, are caught on a surveillance… (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles…)

On the boulevard where the 72-year-old shopkeeper did business for more than a decade, he was simply known as "El seƱor de la 98." The man of the 98-cent store.

He greeted customers modestly in English laced with a thick Iranian accent. He let nearby taco truck workers use his restroom. And when children rode up on bicycles offering him only a few pennies for candy, he gave them the treats for free.

No one knew Fereidoun Kohanim's name. And on Monday at 4:10 p.m., apparently no one heard the fatal gunshot that followed after three men -- all alleged gang members -- entered his store in the 1300 block of West Venice Boulevard and demanded money, but left empty-handed.

In a matter of seconds, as a surveillance video shows, the suspects encircled Kohanim and his wife, who was constantly by his side as he rang up customers from behind the register. When one suspect in a black hooded sweat shirt pointed a chrome-plated revolver at Kohanim from across the counter, the shopkeeper attempted to strike it from his hand. His wife ran to hide.

Another suspect apparently tried to stab Kohanim from behind, Los Angeles police detectives said. When he turned around to defend himself, the gunman shot Kohanim in the back of the head.

Kohanim died late Tuesday afternoon.

"This was a very sad and senseless crime," said Capt. Raymond Maltez. "We're going to do everything we can to get these cowards arrested."

Kohanim and his family, including two grown sons who were in the back of the store during the shooting, emigrated from Iran 15 years ago, police said. They opened the business a few years later.

The family released a statement late Tuesday night saying Kohanim "was known in the community as a warm, passionate and hard working man who was always willing to lend a helping hand. We are devastated by this sudden loss and we will always remember him as the greatest father anyone could ask for."

A fund for the family, www.FredsFamilyFund.com, has been created.

Somber friends and family members carrying food arrived at Kohanim's West Los Angeles condominium on Tuesday.

Mourners said family members were too distraught to speak about the shopkeeper.

The family's Pico-Union store, tucked between a garment factory and storefront church, remained closed. Many passersby barely noticed the candles placed on the pavement by customers in Kohanim's honor. But those who regularly bought drinks and snacks from Kohanim struggled to accept the news.

Tommy Baldi, a business owner across the street, choked back tears as he remembered the cries from Kohanim's son as the young man charged into traffic after the shooting, almost being struck by cars.

"His family was inconsolable," said Baldi, 53. "That poor man didn't deserve this."

Baldi said Kohanim had spoken to him about retiring soon. A for-sale sign had recently been posted outside.

"He said the economy was bad and he wasn't selling very much," Baldi said.

Along the commercial strip, business owners spent the day talking about the incident and peering out of their windows at Kohanim's store.

Mari Mendez, 32, lamented the loss as she prepared for work inside a taco truck parked one door down from the 98-cent store. It was difficult to communicate with Kohanim because of the language barriers, she said, but the two counted on each other for favors. Kohanim let the truck's workers use his restroom, and in return, they kept an eye on the store after he went home.

At the church next door, parishioners spread the word and created prayer circles in Kohanim's name. Inside the garment factory, the seamstresses who depended on Kohanim to supply them with household necessities spoke of him fondly.

"We didn't know him very well," said Alba Gonzalez, 57. "But you could tell he was a very calm, good man."

Anyone with information related to the case is asked to call the LAPD at (877) LAPD-24-7 or (877) 527-3247.

esmeralda.bermudez@

latimes.com

andrew.blankstein@

latimes.com

Times staff writer Martha Groves contributed to this report.

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