Black gang member deliberately killed 3-year-old Hispanic girl
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 revelations stunned residents there.
One mother, who asked that her name not be used, suggested that the shooter was trying to "earn his stripes" and gain respect from gang members.
"I don't even feel safe walking down the street," said a 20-year-old woman who was holding her 5-year-old son's hand.
Another mother, Joy Daniels, 17, carried her 1-year-old daughter home from day care, across the street from a memorial for Kaitlyn that was overflowing with teddy bears, flowers and candles.
She said she was scared to drop her daughter off every morning, fearing that bullets from outside the school might somehow find her daughter.
The thought of the killer deliberately targeting a child gave her chills. Daniels said she wanted to knock some sense into the shooter.
She wished she could ask him: "How do you feel? Do you have remorse? You just took her little life, and on top of that it was intentional?"
The killer may have earned the respect of gang members, Daniels said, but the community was disgusted with him.
"I just pray and ask God to watch over all these little kids," she said.
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.
"Something made me come back," he said. "The whole time I was thinking about my [other] daughter. I still had something."
Avila said it was hard for him to return to his home, where his daughter's bedroom overlooks the crime scene.
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.
A $50,000 reward is being offered for information leading to arrests and convictions in the case.
Detectives can be reached at (213) 485-2417 or (877) 529-3855, a 24-hour toll-free number.
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."
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