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Family mourns July 4 shooting death of teen girl in South L.A.

July 5, 2012 | 12:14 pm


For more than 40 years, four extended families have celebrated the Fourth of July with fireworks in the street in South Los Angeles.

The families barbecue outside the beige bungalows near 97th Street and Normandie Avenue that have served as the central meeting spot for the families for decades, while their kids light firecrackers in the street.

For years, the all-day celebration went off peacefully, the members said.

But about 10 p.m. Wednesday as the festivities were in full swing, a man stood at the corner and fired into the crowd. The gunshots sent men at a table playing dominoes diving for cover.

The bullets hit and killed a 14-year-old girl. A 12-year-old cousin and a 21-year-old male neighbor also were wounded in the attack, authorities said.

The 14-year-old "was just starting out in life,” said her aunt, Emily Sharp-Williams, a cafeteria manager at a local elementary school.

The gunman was shooting “like he was targeting someone,” Sharp-Williams said.

The 14-year-old girl was entering 10th grade at Washington Preparatory High School and lived on Crenshaw Boulevard with her mother and sister, relatives said. But she was an almost daily visitor to the bungalows on 97th Street, where her great-grandmother lived and near where her grandparents and father lived.

"On 97th" was a frequent response her mother received when asking her where she was going. The bungalows are where the enormous extended family gathered for many occasions, including weddings, holidays and after church.

"It was the house. It was the holiday house, the eating house," said the deceased girl's mother, Donna Wade. "That's a big family, and they're like a real family."

In all the years of the family growing and congregating at the 97th Street bungalows, in an area where gang violence was once rife, no one had ever been killed, the said.

"My baby was the first," Wade said.

The shooting was the first tragedy at the annual July 4th celebration since family members first moved to Los Angeles from Thomaston, Ga., in the 1960s, said Mary Dill, niece of the woman, Nadine Stevenson, who was the first to move to the area, and one of the deceased girl's many aunts.

Her death cast a pall Thursday over her relatives who gathered on the narrow, working-class block of 97th Street.

“People don’t realize they’re hurting you when they do things like that,” Dill said.

Police said the motive of the shooting was unknown. Anyone with information is asked to call (323) 890-5500.


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Photo: Donna Wade and her daughter, Eva Beverly, comfort one another inside their apartment. Wade's daughter and Beverly's 14-year-old sister, Unique Russell, was killed July 4 in a shooting on the 1300 block of 97th Street, which also left a 12-year-old girl and a 21-year-old man wounded. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times