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Armed robbery near USC deepens students' unease

An armed robbery on fraternity row ends in an officer-involved shooting and comes a week after two USC graduate students were killed near campus. 'I really don't feel safe right now,' one student says.

April 19, 2012|By Stephen Ceasar and Rosanna Xia, Los Angeles Times
  • USC President C.L. Max Nikias bows before images of Ying Wu and Ming Qu before eulogizing the slain engineering students during a memorial service at the Shrine Auditorium on Wednesday. The students were shot early April 11 while sitting in a car.
USC President C.L. Max Nikias bows before images of Ying Wu and Ming Qu before… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

Gunfire echoed once again through a neighborhood bordering USC early Wednesday, unnerving a community still reeling from the double slaying of two graduate students last week.

A campus police officer shot and wounded a man suspected of robbing four students at gunpoint as they walked along the university's fraternity row around 12:30 a.m. The students were not injured.

The incident comes as the campus continues to grieve the deaths of two students from China who were shot and killed April 11. The officer-involved shooting occurred not more than a block from where a memorial service was held Wednesday evening for the students slain last week.

PHOTOS: USC memorial

Both episodes have raised concerns about the safety of neighborhoods that were once viewed as having improved.

Megan Waters, 21, who lives on 30th Street, where Wednesday's officer-involved shooting took place, said she is glad to be a graduating senior.

"I don't want to be in this area anymore," she said. "I love USC but not when it isn't safe like this."

As they walked together near the intersection of 28th and Figueroa streets, four students — three men and one woman — were approached by a gunman, according to Lt. Andy Neiman of the Los Angeles Police Department. The attacker demanded valuables, stuffed them in a backpack and ran off.

Two of the male students ran after the gunman before flagging down a USC public safety officer, whom they spotted near a Del Taco.

The officer took up the chase for a couple of blocks, then shot the gunman in the leg after he appeared to be reaching for a weapon, Neiman said. It is unclear whether the officer fired from his patrol car. The injured man's gun and items belonging to the students were recovered at the scene, Neiman said.

Witnesses described chaos immediately before and after the officer-involved shooting.

Student Kari Van Horn, 21, said one of her sorority sisters stormed into their house on 28th Street screaming in fear. She then heard two women outside yelling: "Help me. Help us. He's got a gun. He's running after us."

She said she peeked over a balcony and saw people on the street scramble to make it inside as police cruisers flooded the area and a police helicopter hovered overhead. She then heard gunfire.

Jeremy Hendricks, 24, was treated for a single gunshot wound to the leg and has multiple prior arrests, including on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, burglary and robbery, according to LAPD officials. He is on probation for manufacturing dangerous weapons, officials said.

Police allege that Hendricks is a Compton gang member. They said associates of the gang are known to frequent the area around 43rd and Hoover streets, south of the Coliseum.

There is no indication that Wednesday's armed robbery was related to last week's killings.

Student William Smallword, 20, who grew up near Normandie Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, west of USC, said the recent violence worries him.

"I really don't feel safe right now," Smallword said. "I don't even let my girlfriend come out here at night."

But Patrick Atchison, 19, said he has always felt safe under the watch of USC's Department of Public Safety, adding that he thinks the two incidents in the span of a week are coincidental.

"It's a shame on the face of the university more than an accurate depiction of the quality of safety the officers provide," Atchison said.

On Wednesday, just after 8:30 a.m., USC sent a notice to students, describing the robbery.

A USC spokesman said officials were not immediately available to comment on the matter. But after last week's shootings, school officials have maintained that neighborhoods around campus — including those outside its patrol area — are safe. "Crime in the neighborhoods around USC, and in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, has dropped dramatically in recent years," the school said in a statement.

As a string quartet played Wednesday evening, more than a thousand students, faculty, friends and officials filled USC's Shrine Auditorium to honor the two slain graduate students. When the families of Ming Qu and Ying Wu entered, the entire room stood. USC President C.L. Max Nikias announced that the university will establish a scholarship fund for students who exemplified Qu's and Wu's "unyielding ambition" and "uncompromising kindness."

Times staff writers Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein contributed to this report.

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