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Dispatch: 'I wanted him to do beautiful things with his life'

September 16, 2009 | 11:07 am

Jasson Estrada, 18, was shot and killed May 26 in Inglewood. Months after his death, Estrada's framed photo remains one of the few items on display in his mother's homeJasson Estrada made friends easily. He was friends with the smart kids, the kids who ditched school and the kids who were in gangs.

When some of those friends wanted to initiate him into a local gang, his sister told him that if he joined a gang, he would be asked to do “bad things.” He resisted their efforts.

But on Tuesday, May 26, authorities said it was Estrada's friendship with gang members that led to his death. Estrada, an 18-year old Latino, was shot multiple times in the chest just after 7 p.m. in what Inglewood police Det. Lloyd Waters describes as a gang shooting at La Lumbre, a taco shop near 107th Street and Prairie Avenue.

Location of Jasson Estrada's shooting in the 10700 block of Prairie Ave. in InglewoodPolice have no suspects in the shooting. Their primary witness, Adrian Alejandro Dimas-Maya, a 23-year old Latino, who had gone with Estrada to La Lumbre, was found dead four days later in a car near Castaic Lake. His body was burned, wrapped in a rug and left in the trunk of a car.

On the evening that Estrada was shot he was taken to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.

He was the first of his siblings to be born in the United States. Before he was born, his mother, Santos Hercules, emigrated from El Salvador with his older brother and two sisters. She had high hopes for her second son.

In the living room of her Inglewood home months after his death, Hercules caresses Estrada's photo and weeps at the mention of his name. "I wanted him to do beautiful things with his life," she said in Spanish.

Estrada, family members said, loved to draw and write poetry and love songs. His aunt Sylvia described him as always very respectful. He would often cook carne asada or chorizo with eggs and bacon for his family, and at least once a week, he would tidy up the house.

After his death, strangers came to the home to offer their condolences.

“A lot of people from the street came and said he was a nice person,” said his older sister Natalie, the third of five siblings. “He gave people on the street money. He always wanted to do things right.”

Although he was respectful, Estrada was also strong-willed. He had attended Leuzinger High for two years, then transferred to Morningside High, where he stayed only three months before he was caught with cigarettes. He dropped out of continuation school at 17, choosing to work full time.

“He had good grades but wanted to work,” his sister said. “He wanted to be independent.”

He took a job with his stepfather at a newspaper plant, printing the New York Times and other newspapers. He dreamed of becoming a police officer and was working toward his GED.

He had originally planned to work the day he was killed but, because of scheduling issues, took the day off instead. About 3:30 p.m. he told his mother he was going to La Lumbre to get tacos. What happened after that remains unclear to his family.

Hours after he left the house, Hercules said she received an unsettling phone call from a woman who did not identify herself, telling her that her son had been murdered. Although she did not know it until later, the call came about the time of the shooting.

Immediately, the family packed into a car to search for Estrada. Unsure of where he might have been taken, they visited various local hospitals. His sister said the search was further complicated because he was initially admitted to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center under the wrong name. He had been dead for some time when they finally found him.

Over the next few weeks, various accounts circulated about what happened that night at La Lumbre, a place that neighbors said was known as a gang hangout. Some neighbors told them that he had been eating when he was killed. Others said that gang members walked up to him and shot him. Some said it started as a friendly exchange, until the assailant drew a gun. Others would tell them that gang members were targeting his family.

The only thing they knew for certain was that their family was now one person smaller.

Hours before his slaying, his mother had gotten distressing news from the bank. She was told that she needed to immediately make a payment on the family home or the bank would begin foreclosure proceedings. But after her son was shot to death, Hercules said she felt paralyzed by grief. Her only thoughts were of her son and the safety of her family.

No podia hacer nada,” Hercules said. “I couldn’t do anything.”

Now their life at the family home is reduced to a few boxes packed and waiting in the living room. They were supposed to have moved out by the end of August but have yet to find another home.

The bank has asked them to leave, but finding affordable accommodations for their extended family, 11 people in all, has been difficult. On the dining room table is one of the few personal items still on display: a framed picture of Estrada.

-- Lauren Williams in Inglewood

Photo: Jasson Estrada, 18, was shot and killed May 26 in Inglewood. Months after his death, his framed photo remains one of the few items on display in his mother's home. Credit: Ruben Vives/Los Angeles Times