Four arrested in fatal shooting at Santa Monica park

by Robert Lopez
November 6, 2009


Four reputed gang members were booked on suspicion of murder Thursday in connection with a shooting at a Santa Monica park that left one man dead and prompted police to beef up patrols in the area, authorities said.

The shooting occurred shortly before 9 p.m. Tuesday at Virginia Avenue Park, next to a police substation and recreation center where the city’s Police Activities League sponsors sports programs to help keep youths out of trouble.

Santa Monica police said they had teamed up with Los Angeles Police Department detectives to determine whether the attack was connected to a deadly shooting several hours earlier in Venice. One of the alleged gang members taken into custody was from Venice, Santa Monica police said.

“Our detectives are working with LAPD detectives to see if there was any commonality between the two shootings,” said Sgt. David Hunscke of the Santa Monica Police Department.

As two attackers neared the park, Richard Manuel Juarez, 20, was with three Santa Monica High students, officials said.

The assailants fired multiple shots at Juarez and the others, police said. The three students ran away and were not hit, but Juarez was struck at least once. Paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene.

The two suspects, along with two others who were in a nearby car, were taken into custody after a patrol officer heard gunshots and saw two people running from the park area, police said.

Police said they arrested Patrick Dwight Birdsong Jr., 18; Norman Lovan Cole, 33; Sean Alex Mermer, 29; and a male juvenile whose name and age were not released because he is a minor.

All four were booked on suspicion of murder, attempted murder and promoting a criminal street gang, police said. Cole and Mermer also were booked on suspicion of violating parole.

Juarez was a graduate of Olympic High School, said Oscar de la Torre, a board member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

“He was a good kid,” said De la Torre, who also is director of the Pico Youth & Family Center, which offers tutoring and music classes for local youths, and worked with Juarez at the center. “He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Workers at Virginia Avenue Park said Juarez often was at the recreational center and described him as well-mannered. He had just finished an art class there before he was slain, friends said.

The park is in the city’s Pico neighborhood, which has struggled with poverty and outbreaks of violence over the years. The area is home to the city’s largest proportion of Latinos and African Americans.

“It’s hard to understand it because there are so many good things that the city is doing,” said Aranzasu De La O, 26, a Harvard graduate who was raised in the Pico neighborhood and worked with at-risk youths at Virginia Avenue Park.

Her 15-year-old cousin was killed in 2006 near the park. Police said he was mistaken for a gang member by his attackers, who were members of a gang.

“It’s just bad,” De La O said of the violence.

Several hours before Tuesday’s slaying, a 19-year-old man was gunned down in Venice’s Oakwood neighborhood, which also has endured its share of gang violence and drug dealing over the years.

William Charles McKillian Jr. was walking in an alley in the 600 block of Westminster Avenue in Venice when he was confronted by at least one attacker who opened fire. No arrests have been made in the slaying, which happened about 3:30 p.m., the LAPD said. Police said Thursday that they had not identified any suspects.

Authorities in Santa Monica said they had increased patrols and would be out in force Friday at Santa Monica High’s homecoming football game.

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7 Comments for “Four arrested in fatal shooting at Santa Monica park”

  1. stewart

    Slain youth betrayed by a community, not a bullet
    By Aranzasú De La O

    The last time I made the sign of the cross was March 3, 2006, as my aunt wailed over the casket of her 15-year-old son. Eddie Lopez was ki*led by a single gunshot that hit his back and penetrated his heart. His last words were “my mom … ” and his eyes shut forever. He fell by a tree in front of the theater where I often performed. A stranger who heard the gunshot held Eddie’s head in the last seconds of his short life.

    My cousin’s aspirations for college were not cut down in that single moment by a bullet, but over the years by a community that failed to act.

    Last Tuesday, not only did we drop upon hearing the gun shots that ki*led Richard Juarez at Virginia Avenue Park, but the incident also brought back tears of pain and trauma of when Eddie pblanked away. Some youths in Santa Monica, like the teen who ki*led my cousin, lack the self-discovery, the discipline, and the courage to change the courses of their lives. The fault lies not with those youths, but with community members who ignore the social problems taking place in their own backyards.

    How can we, as Santa Monica residents, make a difference in the lives of our youths to keep them from becoming entangled in gang life? The answer lies in a renewed commitment to public service. Most Santa Monica residents are highly qualified and capable of enabling at-risk youths to succeed in the face of their struggles. By volunteering with local youth organizations, residents can bring hope and guidance. We can collaborate with their teachers and counselors to keep our youth on track with their academics. We can introduce them to new ski*ls, not only technical ski*ls like how to build a Web site, but life ski*ls that help them to fulfill their potential. We can serve as the role models for a generation at risk.

    I know the importance of a strong role model and mentor. I was 13 years old when Leigh Curran, founder of The Virginia Avenue Project (VAP), reached out to me. She spoke to my mother about how theater and spoken poetry would allow me to gain confidence. The VAP is an afterschool program in Santa Monica that uses the performing arts in conjunction with long-term, one-on-one mentoring to help kids discover their potential. By continuously checking my progress, Leigh provided me with attention, hope, and confidence so that I could imagine going to USC and graduate from a school like Harvard. Leigh could not have done this without the local professional artists who volunteered at the VAP
    Some people outside of Santa Monica may be surprised that my cousin was ki*led precisely here. However, this incident — and similar shootings like the one last week — under the glitz of a wealthy city, not far from the former residence of Gov. Schwarzenegger.

    Youth violence plagues all cities and affects families from of all backgrounds. The Pico Neighborhood is sporadically infested by the same kind of violence found in the rough neighborhoods in East Los Angeles or Compton. Similarly, the Pico Neighborhood has a significantly larger Latino population than the rest of the city and a higher percentage of children.

    Comprised mainly of renters, the neighborhood is home to many families with median household incomes below the poverty level. Impoverished youths often resort to gang life as an alternative to the mainstream norms of an education and career. In fact, through its own street-culture norms and activities, gang life itself often thwarts youths from completing their educations or realizing their potential. According to a 2008 Harvard report, nearly half of the Latino and African-American students enrolled in California high schools in 2005 failed to graduate.

    Youth are not violent by nature. They become violent. Programs like the VAP in Santa Monica are necessary in the Pico Neighborhood. In fact, 100 percent of participants from the VAP graduate from high school, 90 percent go to college, and 85 percent are the first in their family to do so. If the teenager who took Eddie’s life had a mentor, maybe today Eddie, an honor student and captain of the Santa Monica High baseball team, would now be the freshman at Princeton that he aspired to be. At-risk youth need our attention. When we fail to provide the adequate resources and services they need, youth are more likely to seek that attention from a gang.

    We must never stop looking for alternatives that will help underprivileged youth succeed. Making the sign of the cross is not the solution. It is the end of a failed process that led to Eddie’s and Richard’s deaths among others, and to the incarceration of the teenager who took his life. Hope is driven by empathy, affection, and attention from mentors like those at the VAP. Environmental pressures and cultural identity issues are a constant source of consternation that handicap youth from acquiring the tools necessary to achieve purpose in the face of uncertainty. To imagine possibility by trumping the politics of probability is a ski*l that should not be expected from a child but provided by a collective force of civic engagement. On your next Saturday morning errand run, consider stopping by Virginia Avenue Park to rap, dance, and paint at the Teen Center with one of us.

    Aranzasú De La O grew-up in the Pico Neighborhood and attended Santa Monica public schools on the dual-language Spanish immersion track. She participated in extra-curricular activities offered at Virginia Park as a child, and is a recent graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School. She can be reached at

  2. stewart

    By Frank Gruber

    November 9, 2009 — Another young man was gunned down in Santa Monica — Richard Juarez, 20. (“Man Fatally Shot in Pico Neighborhood Park,” November 5, 2009) He was ki*led last Tuesday evening after attending an art clblank at Virginia Avenue Park. These kil#i*ggs happen every year, another one or two, sometimes more. They hang over Santa Monica like the marine layer.

    Here’s a photo of the impromptu memorial for young Juarez at the park.
    I have a lot of similar pictures on my hard drive.

    Yet I rarely hear about gang violence during election campaigns for the Santa Monica City Council. There’s little mention in all those mailers, and I’ve never heard a question about gangs at a debate. Gang violence is just not part of Santa Monica’s politics. Perhaps it’s too embarrblanking.

    That doesn’t mean that good people don’t try to do their best. The police do what they can, the City sponsors and pays for programs of a recreational and continuing education sort, and the School District, with programs like Olympic High School, have done what it can to keep “at-risk” youths in school.

    But there’s a culture to deal with. Richard Juarez was, I’m told, not a gang member, but according to School Board Member Oscar de la Torre, who runs the Pico Youth and Family Center, people at the center had recently confronted him, because they were concerned he was running with the wrong crowd. Mr. de la Torre told me that he dressed in a gangsta style and had a tattoo on his neck.

    Perhaps for these reasons the two shooters singled him out when he was innocently hanging out in the park with friends, including two girls, from the art clblank. Much speculation is focusing on the fact that a young African-American man was murdered earlier Tuesday in Venice. A common motive for attacks like the one on Richard Juarez is revenge by one gang against anyone who looks like a gang member in the neighborhood from which the avenging gang believes an attack on them came.

    One has to ask why gangsta culture is so attractive to a certain subset of young men, even when it’s proven to be so dangerous. What could make young people so nihilistic? Is it a kind of depression?

    One thing I have admired about the work of Mr. de la Torre’s group is that it has sought to appeal to the sense of shame of the gangsters in the Pico Neighborhood, with demonstrations for peace and by individual confrontations. When these gang members take mayhem and violence to Venice or Mar Vista, the mayhem and violence come back to Pico “with a vengeance.”

    Non-gang members absorb the brunt of that violence; not only the victims like Eddie Lopez in 2006 or Richard Juarez last week, but also their families. Each time there is another murder imagine how the pain must resonate with all the families who have lost sons in years past.

    But then shame is not likely the strongest emotion these young men have. That young African-American man, William Charles Mcki*lian Jr., was ki*led around 3:30 Tuesday afternoon in an alley in Venice. We don’t know yet if the two murders were connected, but can you imagine what emotions gripped other young men in Venice who may have felt that the attack on him was an attack on them?

    And go back a step; what emotions gripped the man or men who shot William Mcki*lian? Were they avenging something we don’t even know about? Were they from Santa Monica?

    For at least a decade there have been peace marches after these gang murders and community leaders have sought to make the gangsters aware of the pain they cause, but the violence continues (although we cannot quantify the effect of successful interventions with particular young men).

    It’s a hard subculture to dislodge and neutralize, as it’s part of our urban history. There’s been a lot of violence in American history — everything from the Indian Wars to lynching to gun-toting criminals — but gangs are a particular phenomenon.

    Going back to the Irish and Chinese in the mid-19th century, the Italians and Jews at beginning of the 20th, and African-Americans and Puerto Ricans in the mid-20th, some small percentage of poor rural immigrants to American cities become involved in violent criminal gangs.

    The word that comes to mind is atavistic: “relating to or displaying the kind of behavior that seems to be a product of impulses long since suppressed by society’s rules.”

    You would think by now our society would have found ways to deal with these impulses, but it’s always been easy to clblankify gangs as someone else’s problem. Santa Monica is not big enough to have “someone else’s problem.”

    But then, I wonder like everyone else what to do.


  3. Marlee

    amazing thoughts! as a young adult, these experiences, and lessons are shaping the way I think and my yearning to get fully get involved with my community, friends, and people. Thanks for sharing, it should mean a lot to everyone. Lets pray for better days.

  4. stef

    Many people don’t realize that this impacts the community surrounding the park incident. As a teacher in Santa Monica, i have heard from teachers that work at the elementary school, Edison, which is located down the street from the park that many of the students there, kinder – 5th graders were affected, indirectly. Teachers talked of how students were concerned and were scared. Let’s keep our streets safe for our children.

  5. Superb Blog, thanks for helping me with this great Article. I think it is really a great topic to write about on my Website. Also here is some good information if needed: single mom grants

  6. Blood

    i heard near everett alvarez in salinas two guys raped a girl
    it was reported and she got away but i wonder if the
    gang members were surenos or not ?

  7. Kerrie Duncomb

    I like the valuable info you provide in your articles I will bookmark your weblog and check again here regularly Im quite sure Ill learn lots of new

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