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“It is the supply-and-demand thing,” said Froiland. “There had been an illegal business operating here for 20 years. When we got rid of the people, it became open territory for other gangs to come in and sell drugs there.”
Rangel, apparently, didn’t put out the welcome mat.
“They [18th Street] don’t belong in this area,” said a longtime friend of Rangel’s who asked to remain anonymous. “Those guys want to take over everywhere. Before, they stuck to MacArthur Park. They have a shitty-ass town where they live. They get anyone in and they kill their own people. They want to corrupt this side of town. Nobody wants to see someone come to their house and start their own business there.”
“It is a matter of pride,” said Senior Lead Officer Al Polehonki of the LAPD’s Northeast Division. “You aren’t going to let someone from another gang spray in your area. If you are in a gang and another gang comes by, it is like a challenge to you.”
What started as a nuisance became more threatening when a Molotov cocktail was thrown into a parked SUV just after midnight in July, weeks before Rangel was gunned down. The firebomb smashed through the driver’s window of the SUV, engulfing the vehicle in flames within seconds. Residents, afraid the vehicle would explode, put out the fire long before firemen arrived on the scene about a half-hour later.
Fears that animosities were heating up in the neighborhood were confirmed on Friday, August 29, with the late-summer skies just faded to black. The streets, where young children on scooters are a common sight, were mostly bare at 8:55 p.m. except for Rangel, who was standing on the northwest corner of Vendome and Marathon when a white Toyota minivan pulled up alongside him. Two male Latinos jumped out of the car and walked toward Rangel. They started to argue, and one of the suspects, who was described as a male Latino between the ages of 18 and 25, took out a handgun and shot Rangel, who staggered down the street, before he fell less than a block from his home. The suspects then jumped back into the van and sped off, colliding with two other parked cars before leaving the scene. When Rampart patrol officers arrived, Rangel was lying on the sidewalk, dead from six gunshot wounds to the head, chest and leg. The minivan, found five blocks away, was reported stolen.
“That poor family has lost two sons,” said Froiland. “Both of whom were in gangs.”
Anti-gang officers say they became aware of Rangel after he was arrested six months earlier for tagging anarchist symbols in the area and for carrying a gun in his backpack. “He was more crazy than he was active,” said Rampart anti-gang Officer Brandon Purece. “Ever since his brother died, he kinda lost it.” At the time, the Silver Lake 13 barely registered on the cops’ radar. “They aren’t one of the most violent gangs in the area,” said Rick Ramos, detective supervisor of Rampart’s Gang Impact Team. “They have been involved in assaults and robberies. But it is sporadic. It is not a consistent problem.”
Sources say that Rangel took over the reins of the 20-plus-member Silver Lake 13 gang as the shot caller or main head sometime last year when a fellow gang member was arrested in the shooting death of a rival gangbanger on South Redondo Boulevard. When the 18th Street gang started showing up in the area, Rangel seemed to find an outlet for his angst.
“They started to ride around in the area,” says Rangel’s friend. “He [Rangel] was crossing out the tags. Unfortunately, he had to go out like that. Nobody deserves that.”
Rangel’s friend describes someone whose death was tinged with inevitability as he sank deeper into depression and violence after his girlfriend and son moved out of their one-bedroom apartment on Vendome. “Everything fell apart after his girlfriend split. He was more out of control. He was doing weed, drugs, beer. The people he was hanging out with, they were bad,” the friend said. “I didn’t want to hang out the way he wanted to hang out.”
What effect the neighborhood’s rapid gentrification had on Rangel, who worked as a bicycle messenger and whose co-workers describe him as outgoing and friendly, is open to speculation. But residents say Rangel’s increasingly antisocial behavior, including allegedly threatening a woman with a screwdriver, paralleled the steep rise in local property values and the influx of new homeowners.
“He had so much anger in him,” said Sandra Ruiz, a 19-year resident and newly elected neighborhood council member. Ruiz, a mother of eight, says she keeps her kids inside most of the time, or walks them to and from friends’ and relatives’ homes. “My daughter was approached by a girl to get in a gang. I think it was Aztlán. I told her to say she has a family that loves her.”
A week after Rangel’s murder, three 18th Street gang members were arrested for burglary in Silver Lake. Residents thought that might be the end of the violence, but three weeks later, on September 23 at 6:15 p.m., a time when neighbors often walk their dogs in the famous Laurel and Hardy park, two passengers jumped out of a silver pickup truck and shot more than 15 bullets into a passing SUV as it drove past the park. The two passengers in the targeted vehicle, one a soldier who had just returned from Iraq and lived in the neighborhood, plowed into two parked vehicles, narrowly escaping injury. The shooters fled the scene. That same evening, the police arrested a member of La Mirada gang in connection with the shooting. The other three remain at large. Residents suspect the shooting is connected with the car bombing that had occurred at the same spot.