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Lakewood Wal-Mart attack 'completely random,' investigators say

Investigators say the Wal-Mart shopper who was attacked and killed by a baseball-bat-wielding assailant in the Lakewood store was probably just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

November 03, 2011|By Ruben Vives and Andrew Blankstein, Los Angeles Times

He was browsing the sporting goods aisle at the Lakewood Wal-Mart, oblivious to the man approaching him in a gray hoodie and gripping an aluminum baseball bat.

Moments later, the 74-year-old customer lay dead on the floor after repeated blows to the head in what witnesses described to police as a vicious and methodical attack.

Investigators on Wednesday were still piecing together what had happened Tuesday afternoon.

"What we know is that this attack was completely random," said Sheriff's Department Homicide Bureau Lt. Eddie Hernandez, who called the crime one of the most brutal he had seen. "There was no warning whatsoever."

Late Wednesday, authorities had not released the identity of the victim because they were unable to reach his family on the East Coast. The suspect in the attack, identified as Richard Lawrence Kalfin, 47, had been detained at the scene and was later booked on suspicion of murder. He is being held in lieu of $1-million bail and is due in court Thursday morning in Bellflower.

The suspect is believed to be a local transient who frequented the shopping center where the Wal-Mart is located. Sheriff's officials said they are talking with local law enforcement and Wal-Mart security officials to determine if they had previous contact with Kalfin.

Despite the nature of the attack, by late Wednesday morning, a sense of normality returned to the aisles and checkout counters. Even so, it was hard to avoid the subject in the sporting goods aisle, with its racks of aluminum and wooden bats and rows of baseball gloves.

"This is where it happened?" one shopper asked a Wal-Mart worker who was unpacking merchandise. The employee simply nodded.

The store's security video shows that the assailant was in the store and had been wandering the aisles for a short time before the victim entered, Hernandez said.

At some point, the assailant ended up in the sporting goods section and removed a baseball bat from a display rack and began walking the nearby aisles, stopping only when he spotted the victim. Witnesses told authorities that he began swinging the bat swiftly and furiously at the customer's head.

It appeared to be a classic case of the victim being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Hernandez said.

There was no evidence that the two men had prior contact — inside or immediately outside the Wal-Mart — although Hernandez stressed that the investigation was still in its early stages.

The store, in the 2700 block of East Carson Street, is usually open 24 hours. It was closed overnight and reopened about 10:30 Wednesday morning.

In a statement, Wal-Mart expressed its "deepest condolences" to the victim's family.

"We are working closely with law enforcement to offer what information we have such as surveillance video that might help with the investigation," the company said.

Some customers Wednesday said they were shocked to learn about the beating. Others shrugged it off as a rare incident.

"I don't think it's going to affect shoppers here," said Sherry Clark, 50, who arrived with her 1-year-old grandson. "It's a peaceful store."

Carla Warrington, 57, and Nathaniel McCoy, 51, said what happened at the store was not only tragic but another reason why they will be happy to be moving Thursday to a small town outside Las Vegas.

"I'm sure stuff happens there too, but not like this," Warrington said.

ruben.vives@latimes.com

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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