By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Party violence is rapidly becoming a countywide epidemic. Shootings have occurred from La Puente to Ladera Heights to Highland Park, in abandoned buildings, in homes with parents in attendance and in halls.
LAUSD has no district policy banning fliers from campuses, leaving it up to the discretion of individual schools. Franklin High School officials say teachers and monitors are on the lookout for fliers being passed around, especially at lunchtime, after school and during football games. The school is aware of the problems that can arise at flier parties. In the past two years, three former (including Cobian) and one current student at Franklin have died at flier parties.
"We are always concerned about flier parties," said Franklin High assistant principal Jeff Geltz. "We certainly don’t condone it. We talk to the students and stress the dangers associated with this type of party. I have supervisors around campus, and one of the things they are responsible for is intercepting fliers."
On April 10, 2004, alleged members of the tagger group Out Causing Kaos gunned down 17-year-old Franklin senior Benjamin Peña at his own house party in Highland Park. The defensive lineman was set to graduate in a few months and wanted to throw a party his friends could remember. Fliers were passed out on campus and at nearby high schools.
"We talked about his party before I went to Europe," said Peña’s best friend, Juan Arredondo, also a senior at Franklin. "He was looking forward to it. It was his senior year. He wanted to show his friends a good time."
The party, which was held under his parents’ supervision in their backyard, attracted more than 100 partygoers. Peña and his older brother took turns collecting the $3 entrance fee for guys and the $1 fee for girls. Northeast Division Homicide detectives said that shortly after 10 p.m., four OCK members made their way into the party and began flipping gang signs. Peña’s older brother was trying to escort one of the OCK members out when a fight broke out and knives were pulled. Three partygoers were stabbed. Benjamin Peña attempted to break up the fight and was shot once in the right chest. He was pronounced dead shortly after at Huntington Memorial Hospital
"I said, ‘It can’t be,’" said Arredondo, who was on his way to the party when he received a call that his best friend had been shot. "When someone gets shot, I think of a gangster. He wasn’t into that type of stuff. He was a really good guy. He didn’t deserve that. He was like a big brother to me. He would always keep me motivated. I miss him a lot."
Two years earlier, 19-year-old Allan Morales, a former student at Franklin, was killed when he tried to attend a March 17, 2002, flier party on Alice Street in Cyprus Park. According to police, when Morales was stopped at the door, he pulled out a .22 revolver and fired at numerous partygoers. Morales was then chased down the street and attacked by a handful of partygoers, who shot him in the head and shoulders, stabbed him a few times, and beat him for good measure. Two other partygoers were injured and lying in the middle of the street when police arrived. "We identified nine people that were involved in this," said Northeast Homicide Supervisor John Berdin. "But because of the reported actions of the victim, there were far too many self-defense issues [to bring charges] because he was armed."
Seven months after that, Efren Diaz Jr., 19, another Franklin student, died at a birthday party he was attending on Chestnut Avenue in Highland Park. Homicide investigators say Diaz was hanging out with friends in the backyard when an alleged Avenue gang member walked up to Diaz and confronted him, pulled out a 9 mm semiautomatic pistol and shot him several times, then casually walked away. The shooter returned a few seconds later to finish him off when he realized that Diaz was still alive. Police believe that a Highland Park gang member killed the shooter, Alfred Salinas Jr., this year.
Friends and family members of those who died at these parties have not been able to make sense of what happened. Cobian’s best friend, Bobby Diaz, said that police need to step up their efforts to stop fliers from circulating around music stores and high schools and dispense larger fines for noise violations, underage drinking and breaking curfew.
"When I was younger, I was like, ‘Why are the police killing the buzz?’ I understand the reason now, because teenagers are trying to cope with being human, and mixing alcohol with that leads to danger," said Diaz. "Party crews set it up so they can make some money and get a reputation, but nowadays people are not responsible. There weren’t shootings a long time ago. People are miserable in their lives, and they try to fit in somewhere, but they don’t, and they will do anything it takes. They are trying to get respect from all the wrong people. They think they will get a reputation. That is how people think. It is not the right way."