Christine Darlene Calderon holds her nephew Mahlik Gibson. Calderon,…
As Christine Darlene Calderon strolled down Hollywood's Walk of Fame with her co-worker just after sunset on Tuesday, an amusing cardboard sign caught her eye.
She pulled out her cellphone to snap a picture of men displaying signs asking for money with four-letter insults and a smiley face.
Moments later, according to a law enforcement source, one of the men demanded she pay a dollar for the picture. When she refused, police say, two of the men allegedly pinned Calderon's co-worker against a wall. The third jumped on top of Calderon, knocking the 23-year-old onto the pavement in front of an American Eagle Outfitters clothing store at Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, police said.
When she got up to run away, authorities said, blood was gushing from a stab wound in her midsection. She collapsed just a few feet from the Walk of Fame. She was pronounced dead at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center three hours later.
Her death in the heart of Hollywood's tourist district stunned both visitors and the collection of merchants and costumed impersonators who work along the boulevard.
Los Angeles police detained two men near the crime scene at midnight and a third man was arrested hours later on suspicion of murder. Police described the trio, believed to be 27 to 34 years old, as transients.
One of them was known to frequent the Hollywood area, police said, while two others were believed to have come from out of state. Police spent Wednesday tracking down witnesses and reviewing surveillance video.
Family members said Calderon knew the Hollywood area and sometimes hung out there with friends.
Her mother, Yolonde Tassin, said she had a feeling something was wrong when Calderon stopped responding to text messages Tuesday night.
So when she opened the door of her Lynwood home Wednesday morning and saw the look in the detective's eyes, she knew.
"I said, 'My daughter's dead isn't she?' " Tassin said. "And he gave me a slight nod."
Tassin sighed as she shuffled through pictures of her daughter Wednesday. There was the one of her at Magic Mountain as a child. And lots of her opening presents on Dec. 25 — her birthday.
"We always celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve," Tassin said. "Christine would always have her special day on Christmas."
After a tumultuous few years during which she had been estranged from her mother, Calderon had completed her GED and begun to turn her life around. She stopped drinking and doing drugs, Tassin said, and a few days ago she went to El Camino Community College to register for classes.
"Her plan was to become an engineer," Tassin said, fighting back tears. "She didn't want to waste years. She wanted to get in there and do it right."
Despite the tourist attractions and upscale stores at Hollywood and Highland, people who work in the area say it still has a grittier side.
From the kiosk he mans near the crime scene, Ethan Lam heard screams echo from the iconic intersection where throngs of tourists pour out of the Metro's underbelly every day to snap photos of TCL's Chinese Theatre, actors dressed as Chewbacca and Spiderman and the Hollywood sign in the hills.
Lam ran toward the noise, where a crowd had gathered around Calderon on Tuesday night. She was wearing jeans and a white top, Lam recalled, adding that he saw several people clutching her stomach to try to stop the bleeding. When paramedics showed up, he said, her shirt was soaked red.
"It was right there, man," Lam said Wednesday afternoon as he pointed to a few maroon droplets dried onto the store's wall.
Victor Guererro, a 25-year-old Mickey Mouse impersonator, said he's seen it all during the 11/2 years he's worked on the Walk of Fame.
There have been fights and arrests, he said, adding that a few days ago he saw a homeless man grilling carne asada on a camping stove and selling tacos.
"Hay tanta locura," he said. "There's so much madness."
Times staff writer Joseph Serna contributed to this report.