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Two hours in Rampart: Thursday, Sept. 27, 2007

September 27, 2007 |  1:28 pm

Escobar_erwin_shrine First thing in the morning, the family members of Erwin Escobar, 14, gathered on the sidewalk just south of Beverly Boulevard on Kenmore Avenue where the teenager was shot Monday. Already, a large memorial of roses, stuffed animals and photos of Erwin had been set up at the site.

Someone also had a left a tinfoil package of homemade chocolate-chip cookies among the roses.

Erwin's mother Maria Escobar came accompanied by friends to add more pictures, and spoke about her son, between small sharp gasps. She is from Guatemala, and spoke in Spanish.Escobar_erwin_mother_maria_escobar

Erwin, her second-to-youngest child, was a 9th-grader, shy, and tall for his age, she said. Escobar_erwin_2 He wanted to be a police officer--wanted to do some work for social good, she said. She saw the shooting. She was up on the balcony of a tall brick apartment building looming above the spot. He appeared dead when she reached the sidewalk--shot through the heart, family members believe. She had difficulty speaking: "I miss him," she said.

Minutes after she spoke, the detectives at Rampart's division's detective unit on Third Street, who are investigating Erwin's murder, got a phone call. Another homicide had just occurred at the intersection of 7th and Hoover, about a mile to the southwest, at a Winchell's Donuts. (Photos below by Times staff photographer Al Seib)

Hoover_and_7th2

Hoover7th_passerby This time, the victim was a 32-year-old Nelsis Rodriguez. His killers hit him with a baseball bat, shot him while he was on the ground, then ran.

Passersby asked the officers guarding the perimeter what happened. "They shot a guy," one of the officers told a woman. The woman clapped a hand over her mouth and kept it there as she hurried away.

Hoover_7thphone_3 It was at least the third homicide in Rampart this month.

Lt. Joe Losorelli of Rampart advised against trying to read a pattern in the killings. "They never make sense," he said. "None of these gang killings ever make sense to me."

But he didn't have much time to talk. At 9:15 a.m., while he was still working the scene on 7th, a Latino man in his 30s was shot about half a mile to the west--at Olympic and Beacon--and Losorelli left one scene for another.

By this time, just about every detective in the division was working, canvassing at two scenes for witnesses, and patrol units were tied up guarding the yellow tape in two places. Residents in Rampart calling 911 on more minor complaints were waiting longer for officers, or being served by officers from neighboring divisions.

Beacon_and_olympic

The man shot on Beacon was taken by ambulance to the trauma center at California Hospital, his clothes left on a pile on the ground. He was on the operating table at California Hospital shortly after. "He fell right here!" said a woman in a dingy striped jacket. She had a lone snaggletooth in the front of her mouth, and described herself as homeless but alert. There had been in an argument, then people heard shots ring out, said Rampart Capt. Tom McDonald.

Office workers from the building across the street came down to see what happened, and stood at the tape, a reprise of the scene on 7th. Among them was German Rivera, 36, none too pleased to find himself at the scene of a serious shooting in front of his workplace.

German_2 Rivera, in shirt and tie, had an L.A. story: He said he grew up in the Aliso  Village projects in Boyle Heights. He said he was around shootings "all the time" as a child, and even served a stint in juvenile hall as a youth. But he got out, went to community college, got a job in sales, and joined the white-collar ranks, working as a credit-card consultant in the big glass office on Beacon and Olympic. "I've been trying to run away from this my whole life," he said, eyes on the crime scene.

The police working near him, meanwhile, were interrupted by yet another shooting call, nearby, again. Patrol units rushed to the scene. But this time, there was nothing. Perhaps a hoax, an officer said.

Rampart is the police precinct just east of downtown: If you were standing at the Dream Center in the former hospital building on the 101 Freeway looking south, you would look right across it.

Despite the spurt of activity, unusual for a Thursday morning, Rampart homicides are sharply down this year. And the division, densely populated, largely impoverished, and peopled with a mishmash of Guatemalan, Salvadoran, and Mexican immigrants--notably those from Oaxaca state--as well as Bangladeshis and Koreans, does not have an especially high homicide rate per capita.

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