A 3-year-old girl, fatally shot as her family arrived home after a Sunday afternoon trip to McDonalds, was intentionally targeted by a teenage gang member who fired at point-blank range, police said Monday.
The announcement, which came as detectives sought the public’s help in finding the killer, prompted new anxiety in the Southwest Los Angeles neighborhood of Baldwin Village, which has struggled with gang violence for decades.
Though police said they don’t know the motive for the girl’s slaying, some parents expressed fear that the Oct. 1 shooting was a twisted gang initiation gone tragically wrong.
A joint task force of the Los Angeles Police Department and FBI, which has been investigating Kaitlyn Avila’s death, arrested one suspect. But Jonathan Banks, the 17-year-old suspected of pulling the trigger, is still being sought.
LAPD Deputy Chief Charles Beck said the killer approached Kaitlyn, her father and her 6-year-old sister as they were getting out of the car outside their apartment building.
He shot and wounded Cesar Avila, a glass worker, erroneously believing that he was a member of a rival gang. He then aimed his gun at Kaitlyn and shot her once in the chest, police said.
“This wasn’t an accident or case of her getting caught in the fire,” Beck said. “He intended to kill her. This was callous killing. It is beyond even what gangsters consider usual.”
Authorities said they pieced together the chain of events after interviewing people who witnessed the shooting, as well as Cesar Avila and Kaitlyn’s sister Kassey, who was unhurt in the attack.
The shooting occurred at 2:45 p.m. on a block of densely packed apartment buildings. Several people were outside and saw the attack, detectives said.
Beck said Kaitlyn’s death underscored the continuing gang problems in Baldwin Village, a neighborhood of less than a square mile between La Brea Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard off Coliseum Street.
The LAPD’s Beck and Kaitlyn’s father, Cesar Avila, appealed Monday for the public’s help in finding Banks, who is believed to be in the Los Angeles area.
“We’re heartbroken, we’re very heartbroken for the death of my daughter,” Avila said.
“We ask the suspect to turn himself in,” he said, his voice breaking.
“Even though it won’t bring my daughter back, at least we know more innocent people won’t get hurt,” he said. “I don’t care so much for what he did to me, but for what he did to my daughter.”
Avila and his daughters were getting out of their car outside their Pinafore Street home when the killer jumped out of a gray Chrysler Pacifica and began firing a 9-millimeter handgun. Both the shooter and the driver, identified as Laron Lee Larrimore, allegedly shouted gang slogans.
Avila spent nine days in the hospital, some of them in critical condition.
The LAPD has focused considerable resources recently on cracking down on gang violence in Baldwin Village, with help from the U.S. Justice Department, police officials said. Though crime in Baldwin Village is down, officials said, the influence of gangs remains strong.
“The monster of gangsterism in South Los Angeles is the cause of this shooting,” Beck said.
Two warring gangs occupy the area: the Black P-Stones, a mostly black gang, and 18th Street, a mostly Latino gang.
Though the victims were Latino and the suspects African American, police officials said they believe the shooting was gang-related, not racial.
Police released a photo of Banks and described him as African American, 6 feet 4 and about 200 pounds. They said he should be considered armed and dangerous.
As police hunted for Banks, some Baldwin Village residents said they had had enough.
Gabriela Vasquez, 21, walked her two nephews home from school Monday afternoon, past the spot where police found Kaitlyn’s body.
“It’s not hard to believe,” Vasquez said. “They thought the little girl saw them. She’s little, but if she [saw] them again she could point them out.”
Vasquez said she planned to leave Baldwin Village this year because of the gang violence.
“These people out here, they just don’t care,” Vasquez said. “They kill little kids and even the elderly.”
Authorities in Orange County, Fla., released a composite sketch of a man wanted on suspicion he shot and killed another man over a 30-inch gold chain.
Police said Durrance Glasper was confronted by two men at the Beacon Hill apartments located at 7450 Beacon Hill Loop in Orange County late Monday.
Witnesses said during the confrontation, Glasper was directed to remove a 30-inch chain with a medallion. When Glasper refused of remove the jewelry, he was shot.
“Of the witnesses at the scene, the only thing they could tell us was that somebody was overheard saying, ‘Give it up’—assuming that they were trying to steal something or rob something from him,” Orange County sheriff’s Capt. Al Rodriguez said.
Knapp said investigators are disturbed by the case.
“For whatever reason, life doesn’t seem to have the value that it once did,” Rodriguez said. “There seems to be a lot of people who just don’t value life.”
The shooter is described as a black man who is about 6 feet tall. He has a light-to-medium complexion and may have gold caps on his teeth.