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Church shooting over graffiti outrages L.A. neighborhood

November 5, 2012 |  5:58 pm

The Sunday-evening service was near an end at the small storefront church on Beverly Boulevard when one of the congregations came upon a commotion outside.

A teenage girl was spray-painting graffiti on the side of the Principe de Paz church in the Westlake district. When the man asked her to stop, she knocked him to the ground and continued tagging. Two other parishioners then came outside. A man emerged from a car parked next to the church and opened fire, killing one churchgoer and wounding the other.

Hearing the gunshots, churchgoers poured out into the street and knelt beside the victims, praying in Spanish, according to witnesses who watched the scene in disbelief.

“For God’s sake, if people going to church aren’t protected, then who is?” asked a nearby business owner, who bolted out of his store when he heard the gunfire and saw the dead man lying on the asphalt, surrounded by loudly grieving parishioners.

The shooting left the neighborhood angry and afraid. They said gangs have long been a problem in the area and that recently gang members had begun threatening violence against residents who complained  about or painted over graffiti.

LAPD detectives are searching for the gunman and tagger. They believe some witnesses are afraid to come forward out of concern about gang reprisals. Several witnesses talked to The Times on the condition of anonymity, fearing for their safety.

“They were going to church. They didn’t do anything to deserve what happened,” said LAPD homicide Det. Jeff Cortina. “We need the public’s assistance. This wasn’t gangster-on-gangster. It could be anybody. It could be anybody's kids.”

Police identified the dead man as Andres Ordonez, 25, a cook and father of a 1-year-old boy who was a church regular. One friend said Ordonez had been going to the church since age 10.

 “If you needed help, he would help you,” said the church handyman, who did not want to be named out of fear. He described Ordonez as humble, hard-working and accommodating.

“He was like the right hand of the pastor,” he said. “From work to church, there was nothing else. To me, he was an extraordinary young man.”

The handyman added that Ordonez and the other church members were “not aggressive people at all. You can insult them and they won't insult back. They're very peaceful people.”

The evangelical church was made up largely of Guatemalan and Central American immigrants who live in the dense row of apartments off Beverly in the Filipinotown district.

The church is located inside a long one-story building at the corner of Beverly and Reno Street, across from a Mexican market and a free clinic. The congregation uses the back parking lot on the property to hold meals and other social gatherings.

Residents said the area has crime problems but said they can’t believe the church was targeted.

 “No one thinks you're going to shoot people in front of a church,” said one mother of four who asked that her name not be used. “You think someone getting robbed at this store or that store. But at a church? That's so disrespectful. And just because someone said, 'Stop writing on the wall.'”

Resident Danny Deschamp, 29, heard the gunfire Sunday night coming from the church.

“I’m sick and tired of this,” he said of the gang activity in the neighborhood.

--Hector Becerra and Jessica Garrison

Crime in the Westlake District over last six months:

Violent crimes (437)
Property crimes (964)