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Teen shot to death in South L.A. park; $50,000 reward offered

The Los Angeles Police Department has offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of suspects involved in the shooting of a 19-year-old student and volunteer at Harvard Park.

Authorities have traditionally struggled to find people to come forward in the South Los Angeles neighborhood, where for years a Bloods street gang has claimed the park as its own.

Members would often guard the entrance, denying access to neighbors and construction crews. Reputed gang members shot a graphic music video inside the park, which prompted City Councilman Bernard C. Parks to push for the installation of surveillance cameras.

For the victim, Patrick Caruthers, Harvard Park was like a second home. It was where he played soccer as a child, and where his passion for basketball later flourished. It was where he spent countless hours as a youth volunteer.

Caruthers was at the park this week, sitting on a bench listening to music under the shade of a tree when a gunman walked up and shot him in broad daylight. Police believe he may have been mistaken for a gang member.

The brazen killing Tuesday afternoon prompted another call for security cameras in the troubled park.

The cameras were expected to be operating this summer, but the issue has been stalled at City Hall since February.

A couple of hours before Caruthers died Tuesday, Councilman Mitch Englander, chairman of the public safety committee, had forwarded the initiative to the City Council for final approval, he said in a statement.

An equipment issue that had been holding it up "seems to have been resolved," Englander said in an emailed statement.

The cameras might not have prevented Caruthers' slaying, but Parks said they would probably have provided leads for police, and maybe even images of the suspects.

A student at L.A. Trade Technical College, Caruthers got out of class a little early Tuesday and headed straight to the park. He called his stepfather about 3 p.m. to check in. Caruthers was sitting at a picnic table with his headphones on when a gunman shot him multiple times in the back.

The gunman fled in a compact car. Police said the shooting was gang-related, but that Caruthers was an innocent bystander.

The shooter "thought he was targeting a gang member," LAPD Det. Chris Barling said. "At 3 o'clock in the afternoon, somebody doesn't walk up and shoot somebody on a park bench. That is something a gang member would do."

Caruthers, who had a learning disability, volunteered at the city-owned park for years, until the director finally hired him in the Summer Night Lights anti-gang program. There, he helped steer youngsters from trouble.

"He was the one guy you would go to the park and see and he was always doing something positive," said Officer Gary Verge of the LAPD's 77th Division. "I've been on the scene of a lot of shootings but hearing about this one really bothered me."

Family members described Caruthers as a charismatic young man who overcame his learning disability to achieve great things in his short life.

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-- Angel Jennings in South Los Angeles

 
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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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