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Fullerton gang suspected in attack on pastor

A group of about 20 youths broke church doors and windows, bashed in the minister's car and pelted him and his 3 young passengers with rocks as they fled into the church, he said.

February 15, 2009|Bob Pool and Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Police were searching Saturday for a group of youths who attacked a longtime Fullerton minister and his sons, chasing them into their church and pelting them with rocks.

The Rev. Willie Holmes, president and founder of Majesty Christian Fellowship, said he was driving his two sons and another passenger back to the church from a Fullerton Union High School concert about 10:20 p.m. Friday when they were attacked near Valencia Drive and Highland Avenue.

A group of about 20 youths thought to be between 15 and 20 darted in front of Holmes' car, shouting "FTT" -- short for Fullerton Tokers Town, a local Latino gang, he said. The youths surrounded the gray 1981 Mazda 626 sedan about a block and a half from the church, which is in a small industrial park. Holmes drove around them and headed for the church. His son Willie Jr., 17, called 911.

Once they reached the church at 431 S. Richman Ave., Holmes said, he and his passengers ran from the car and hid inside the church office.

The attackers ran to the church lot and began throwing rocks and bottles at the office as Holmes' wife, Vanessa, and 13-year-old daughter, Chloe, watched from a nearby church building.

"If we'd stayed in the car they'd really have hurt us," said passenger Taylar Hagen, 19, of Whittier. She said she and the others hid at the back of the office while waiting for police.

Willie Holmes Jr., student body president at Fullerton High, said he was puzzled by the attack because the church has done much to help the surrounding neighborhood.

As the attackers smashed the church office window and door, Kyle Holmes, 20, another son of the pastor, screamed at them that they were damaging a house of worship. The youths then turned their attention to the car, smashing its windows and kicking in its sides, the pastor said.

Holmes, 41, said he suffered scrapes and cuts to his hands and hip during the attack. No one else was injured. Fullerton Police Sgt. Mike Chlebowski said his agency is investigating the episode as an assault. He said the incident involved "a local gang" but would not say whether police believed that the minister was targeted or whether the attack was a hate crime.

Holmes noted that his church, which feeds 60 local families weekly, is clearly marked on the outside.

He has worked at the Richman Avenue church, whose congregation numbers about 150, for 14 years. He said that he's never had problems with local gangs and that the two buildings his church uses have never been vandalized by graffiti.

"We're African American, they're Hispanic, but we take care of the community and have a full Hispanic ministry and a Hispanic pastor," Holmes said. "We feed their families."

As he spoke at an afternoon news conference, tears rolled down the cheeks of the minister, who has counseled many victims of street violence.

"We don't want retaliation for us coming forth. But we have to take a stand. We have a shattered building and shattered emotions," he said.



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