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One bullet shatters a family and a Sun Valley neighborhood

Three men rob a longtime Sun Valley resident, then kill the grandson who tried to save him.

January 11, 2012|By Sam Quinones, Los Angeles Times
  • His family displays a photo of Danilo Estuardo Morales, 24, who was killed trying to save his grandfather from robbers in Sun Valley.
His family displays a photo of Danilo Estuardo Morales, 24, who was killed… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)

It was a short trip to the supermarket for telephone calling cards, but the errand would leave Manuel Flores' life forever scarred.

Moments after Flores returned home from the Sun Valley El Super just one mile away, his 24-year-old grandson son, Danilo Estuardo Morales, lay dying in the street from a bullet wound.

Flores, 68, had just parked his minivan behind his house in the 8100 block of Coldwater Canyon Avenue on Monday night when three youths emerged from the shadows, he told a reporter.

"Don't cause trouble," one of them said in Spanish, using the Central American term bulla for trouble.

Flores handed over his wallet, a chain and his car keys. The robbers tossed away the keys and demanded Flores' bracelet. As he fumbled to remove the jewelry, Flores yelled "They're robbing me!" and dived to the side, he said. One of the youths fired a gun, and the round slammed into the home's back door.

It was around 6:45 p.m., and the commotion alerted several family members inside the house. The grandson bounded out the front door and began chasing the attackers, who had run to a white SUV around the corner.

"He thought they'd beaten his grandfather," said Julio Mendoza, Flores' son-in-law. Morales caught up to the vehicle before it peeled out. He swung his fist into a rear window, smashing it.

"That's when they shot him," said cousin Jose Avila.

According to the Los Angeles Police Department, Morales was struck in the head by a single bullet. As the youths sped off, Morales collapsed on Willard Street, just south of Coldwater Canyon.

By Tuesday, a memorial of candles and flowers stood just a few feet from a large bloodstain that marked the spot where Morales died. Throughout the day, television news vans lined Coldwater Canyon Avenue in front of the home as friends and relatives descended with food and embraces.

Mourners recalled Morales as a talented soccer goalie who had ambitions to become an electrician. At the time of his death, Morales worked for Entertainment Lighting Services of Tujunga, which supplies lights for movie premieres.

"If it was me, I probably would have done the same thing," Avila said. "He was trying to protect his family."

Flores, an immigrant from Guatemala City, settled in the area 16 years ago and has hosted many relatives at his home.

Across this San Fernando Valley neighborhood of modest, working-class homes, residents said they were shocked. The area has long drawn immigrant families from Central America, Mexico, Armenia, Thailand and the Philippines. The neighborhood used to be more closely knit than it is now, residents said.

"Before there was nothing, no crime," said Levon Saporchian, an Armenian immigrant who has lived in the area for 20 years. "Last few years, there's been a lot of things."

sam.quinones@latimes.com

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