Girl’s accused killer straddles a racial divide

Jonathan Fajardo, the Latino gang member jailed in the shooting of a black teen, is part Creole. His mother agonizes over his future.

By Sam Quinones
Times Staff Writer

March 10, 2007

Jonathan Fajardo is a member of a Latino gang from Harbor Gateway that has a history of attacking blacks.

He is accused of gunning down a 14-year-old girl he did not know just because she was black and, a month later, of helping to ki*l a possible witness, who was stabbed 80 times.

His alleged crimes have highlighted interracial gang violence in parts of Los Angeles and beyond, drawing attention from the FBI director, mayor, police chief and community leaders.

But there is a lesser-known fact about the 18-year-old typed plainly on his booking record.

Jonathan Fajardo is black — at least in part.

His mother is Mexican and his father is a Creole whose parents are from Belize. He has three half-sisters and a half-brother who are as dark as his victim, Cheryl Green.

His sister was engaged to a black man with whom Fajardo was on good terms. A cousin is dating a black friend of Green’s family.

Why Fajardo ended up where he is — charged with two notorious gang crimes — is hard for his family to fathom.

“He knows he has black blood,” said his mother, Luz Andrade, who like other relatives cannot recall Fajardo making racist remarks. “He’s had black people around him all his life.”

At his arraignment Thursday, Fajardo pleaded not guilty.

If convicted in either case, he could face the death penalty.

Little about Fajardo’s life offers neat explanations for where he is today.

Though his father deserted his mother before he was born, he grew up, one of four children, in an orderly and apparently loving home.

At 13, his mother said, he was an all-star soccer player and Pony League pitcher, a cheerful kid with a beautiful grin who listened to his mother.

“I always thought I would see him on the news, but as a great athlete,” Andrade said. “That’s how I pictured him on TV — not as the most wanted.”

But at 14, the gang — and later methamphetamine — took hold of him like a cult, she said.

Nothing else mattered; not sports, family or heritage.

“He would see me crying, pleading with him, and he would just walk out the door and go with his friends,” Andrade said.

Luz Andrade moved to Harbor Gateway, a long strip of land connecting the bulk of Los Angeles to the harbor, to get away from the gangs of South Los Angeles.

She was heartened by the Torrance mailing address.

“As soon as I heard Torrance, I said, ‘My kids are going to go to better schools.’ ”

But, because Harbor Gateway is part of Los Angeles, the Torrance school district turned away her youngsters.

Budding athlete

Fearing for her son’s safety as he approached junior high, Andrade took a second job as a secretary at Coast Christian School in Torrance so he could attend at reduced tuition.

By then, he had become an avid athlete. His family’s free time was spent at parks in Hawthorne, where relatives lived, watching him, his sisters and their cousins play baseball and soccer.

He was selected for all-star teams. Coaches argued over whom he would play for.

“A lot of people saw such great potential because of his ability in sports,” said his aunt, Juana Rivas.

He was a happy, even-tempered kid, his family said. When he slacked off academically, his mother brought him into line by threatening to keep him off the field.

But at 14, he grew withdrawn. He began talking back to teachers, cutting clblank. He hung out near the Del Amo Market, the area’s only business, where gang members congregated.

After work, Andrade would go out looking for him. She would haul him home, but he would sneak out when she was asleep. Sometimes she would stay up to stop him, but the next day she would be exhausted at her job as a restaurant manager.

He was arrested, first for shooting a bird with a BB gun, then for curfew violations.

At night, he would joy-ride in Andrade’s car. He also drove his sister’s car without a license, and was arrested again.

Andrade enrolled him in a police-run weekend boot camp for youths drifting into gangs. There he met 204th Street gang members. All of them, including Fajardo, were ejected from the program for being disruptive.

One day, Andrade was off work and wanted to take her children bowling. But Fajardo had vanished. She drove around, finding him near the Del Amo Market with other youths.

“I told him … ‘I don’t want you hanging around them,’ ” she said. “He just said, ‘I’m one of them.’ ”

He stayed with his friends that night. She cried all the way to the bowling alley.

The gang he joined had been attacking blacks for almost a decade. At least five blacks are believed to have been ki*led by 204th Street members since 1997; numerous others have been shot or shot at.

Before his gang days, Fajardo had a black friend in the neighborhood. Jason Watson remembers him as “a cool little kid.” They would play video games at each other’s houses.

“I stopped hanging out with him for the simple fact that he became a 204 [gang member]. They’re racist to the core,” said Watson, now a college student.

Fajardo shaved off his thick curly hair and began wearing low-slung, size-44 pants. He was thrown out of Narbonne High School.

Now his mother begged him to play sports.

She enrolled him in the Hawthorne leagues where he used to star, but she had to drag him to practices. He wouldn’t even attend the games. Coaches stopped wanting him.

Andrade had trouble talking to her son. She grew enraged at his gang involvement; he withdrew further.

He was never violent around her, she said. But by 16, he was in and out of juvenile hall. He would return home muscular and healthy, his family said.

But soon he would be thin and peaked from using methamphetamine. His creamy dark skin grew leathery and pocked.

His mother couldn’t always keep tabs on him. Sometimes she worked two jobs.

Besides managing a restaurant, she worked as a secretary or in a factory. She’s now a slot-machine attendant at a casino.

Adding to the family’s stress, Andrade was caring for her own mother, who was dying of diabetes. She had had several amputations.

Andrade had married, but her relationship with Fajardo’s stepfather — the only father he had ever known — was in trouble. The couple separated for a few years.

Yet the family remained tight. Andrade never used drugs or alcohol, she said, and the house was clean.

“He didn’t lack love,” said his aunt, Juana Rivas.

Still, he grew increasingly out of control.

“I used to go take my car and go around looking for him and take him away from the gang,” said Angel Andrade, his grandfather. “Sometimes he’d say no.”

The adults in the family felt powerless to stop him, or even understand him.

His 21-year-old sister, Jennifer, said that in the neighborhood dominated by the 204th Street gang, every Latino boy had a choice to make.

“Maybe it’s either join or be scared,” she said.

Watson, Fajardo’s former friend, believes that joining 204th Street is almost part of growing up for Latino youths in the neighborhood.

“This gang, they recruit. All these Mexican boys, pretty soon they all turn 204s,” he said. “I knew, say, six of them, and they all six of them” joined.

Desperate to escape the gang’s influence on her son, Luz Andrade moved the family to Indio in 2004.

But Fajardo was once again expelled from school.

His stepfather found him a job at a pet-food factory — the only one he ever had.

He quit after two weeks and returned to Harbor Gateway. He would come home for a week, then be gone again.

Fatal confrontation

Last year he turned 18 — old enough, his mother decided, to make his own choices. He again left the family for 204th Street.

On Dec. 15, police say, he and another gang member, Ernesto Alcarez, 20, had a confrontation with a black man outside the Del Amo Market.

The man pulled a gun. Police say Fajardo, feeling “disrespected,” ran to get a gun and returned to the market. By then, the man had left.

Walking through the neighborhood, police said, Fajardo and Alcarez saw Cheryl Green and several other black youths talking on Harvard Boulevard.

Police allege that Fajardo walked up and began firing as Alcarez stood as a lookout. Then they ran off.

Green was hit in the stomach and died. Three others were wounded.

Andrade heard nothing of the crime until more than a week later, when police searched her former house in Indio and her sister’s place in Hawthorne.

A few days after that, she saw Fajardo’s mug shot on the news.

He called to tell her he was innocent. “Turn yourself in so they can clear you,” she said.

He wouldn’t.

From then on, she cried often. She checked the Internet every day to see if he had been arrested. On Jan. 4, he was.

Life interrupted

At 38, Andrade faces a life filled with court hearings and jailhouse visits. She doesn’t sleep well.

“I try to figure out where did I go wrong, but I have three other kids who are great,” she said. “I want people to know that he was at a certain point a very good boy. His turn for the worse, maybe it was the streets. I don’t know. He would not open up to me.”

Yet he is her son, and she’s standing by him. She wonders how she will afford a lawyer.

Fajardo’s black half-sisters say they’ll attend his trial in support. “I don’t think this is a hate crime,” said one of them, Gina Fajardo.

Andrade, meanwhile, hopes he can escape a death sentence.

“I want justice done just as much as Cheryl’s mom,” she said. “I just don’t want him dead.”

She thinks often of Cheryl and her mother, Charlene Lovett.

The women lived two blocks from each other. Both were single mothers for a while. Both are Christian and moved to Harbor Gateway to get away from gangs.

“My heart breaks every time I think about her,” Andrade said. “Had the situation been different, her mom and I might have been friends…. Regardless of whether he did it or not, please tell her I’m sorry.”

She catches herself. She remembers her son’s claims of innocence.

“I’m just holding on to that,” she said. “I lived with this person for 18 years, and I didn’t see any violence. I believe he didn’t do it.”

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