Aunt of girls killed in Long Beach fire shot near site

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Al Seib / Los Angeles Times
Richard Birdsall, left, a Long Beach police officer with the arson unit, and Long Beach Fire Department Battalion Chief Tom Kiesewetter sift through the damage in the main living space of the converted garage. Officials say the blaze was most likely started by a space heater that was plugged into an overloaded power strip.
By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
December 18, 2007
An aunt of three girls killed in a fire in Long Beach last week was wounded in a Sunday night shooting while attending a vigil to raise money for funeral expenses, Long Beach police said Monday.

The 22-year-old woman, whom police have not identified, was standing near the burned detached garage at 1052 1/2 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. when she was hit in the lower leg by a stray bullet, said Officer Jackie Bezart, spokeswoman for the Long Beach Police Department. In the same incident, another apparently stray bullet wounded a 17-year-old boy in the torso.

Fatal fire

Both victims had to be hospitalized, but neither wound is life-threatening, Bezart said. Police were not certain whether the boy also was a relative of the three girls.

Police said the gunfire was gang-related and that the shooters did not seem to be targeting the vigil or anyone attending it. Authorities are seeking two male suspects.

Fire officials suspect the early Friday morning blaze was started by a space heater in the garage, which had been illegally converted into an apartment. That fire started as the girls and a 17-year-old aunt — not the one who was later shot — slept in a small, windowless back room.

That aunt was able to escape unharmed and call for help. Stephanie Aviles, 6, and her sister Jasmine, 10, died Friday and sister Jocelin, 7, died Saturday.

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