The neighborhood surrounding Dolores Mission Church in Boyle Heights has been rocked by four homicides in three months.
Ricardo Orozco was the first. He was hanging out with a cousin inside a gated community off Gless and 4th streets when two armed men walked up and shot and killed him in early April. Later that month and just half a mile away, Eddie Banks was shot and killed by a rival gang member. Frankie Velasquez's slaying followed less than a week later, and Emmanual Vargas' death occurred a month after that.
Aside from occurring in the same one-square-mile area, the incidents are probably unconnected, police said. But the killings have fueled concerns among community members.
"I've seen the grief in the families. I've seen the loss," said Rita Chairez, a Boyle Heights resident of 23 years. "You can't put a story behind it because it's their life. Their life is broken. Their whole community is broken."
After having enough of watching hazmat teams clean up the blood after each slaying, Chairez and other community members took to the streets Wednesday, organizing a peace walk to each of the four sites where the young men were killed. The group also honored Hernan Rubalcaba, who was killed in another neighborhood but was considered part of the community.
"We're trying to communicate with our presence to say, 'You guys are not going to claim our neighborhood for violence. We're claiming it for peace,' " said Father Scott Santarosa, pastor of Dolores Mission Roman Catholic Church.
At 6 p.m., about 75 people met at Dolores Mission Plaza, headed south on Gless Street to Pico Gardens, turned east on 4th Street, then headed north on Boyle Street and west on 1st Street. The walk ended back at the church.
Participants carried signs reading, "Say no to violence" and "Peace in the barrio" while singing songs in memory of the dead.
Irma Rubalcaba's house was the first stop. As she stood hugging her brother Hernan's daughter, the crowd raised their hands in blessing. "You feel the love of the community," Irma Rubalcaba said. "You're in awe to see" it.
Although Erik Villegas, 24, doesn't live in Boyle Heights anymore, he continues to go to Dolores Mission Church and remains active in the community.
"I still have friends and family who are directly affected by this tragedy. It's my way of showing support," said Villegas, who played guitar during the walk.
Los Angeles Police Det. Carey Ricard, a homicide supervisor for the area that includes Boyle Heights, said slayings have decreased since the 1990s. He remembers when multiple killings a week were the norm. People in the neighborhood, he said, are no longer used to seeing or hearing about a killing every night. Now when they do, they get uncomfortable, Ricard said.
In 1992, Los Angeles recorded one of its highest numbers of homicides: 1,092. Sixty-three of those were in Boyle Heights. Last year, Boyle Heights had just five.
"I think the biggest thing for me is knowing that the community is concerned," said LAPD Capt. Anita Ortega, who has worked closely with Santarosa on previous walks. "It's about the community taking control and making it known to everyone that sees them walking. They're not just waiting for the next shooting."