The End Of Murder | Features | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
Loading...

The End Of Murder 

If New York can slash homicide by 76 percent, can Los Angeles contemplate a vanishing point?

Wednesday, Jan 24 2007
Comments

CHRIS CASTELLANOS, 1988–2006

The No. 18 bus ambles down Whittier Boulevard every 10 minutes on weekday mornings, letting its mostly low-income riders on and off as it rolls past cinder-block medical clinics, stuccoed beauty parlors and fenced auto yards. That was the routine on January 3, 2006, as MTA bus driver Phillip Gonzales took his passengers east out of downtown Los Angeles, over the majestic Sixth Street bridge, and uphill into working-class Boyle Heights.

Gonzales, a veteran with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, had seen his share of bad behavior. So on that bright, sunny morning, he thought he knew what to expect as he approached Whittier and Boyle, where two young men were confronting a teenage boy. For a moment, he thought the pushing and shoving might even be entertaining. “There is nothing like a good old-fashioned fight,” Gonzales recalled saying, when he appeared in court months later.

Related Stories

  • LAPD Militarization 10

    This week, much of the public has been aghast at images of police in Ferguson, Missouri, wearing camouflage, driving armored vehicles and aiming assault rifles. This "militarization" of police has been decried and blamed on an influx of cash from the federal drug war and Iraq-era surplus gear. But the issue of...
  • Crime Stats' Limits

    To the extent that Mayor Eric Garcetti can be said to have an agenda, crime is nowhere near the top of it. The issue barely came up during the mayor's race last year, and aside from appearing at press conferences touting the latest drop in the crime rate, Garcetti has...
  • Behind the Scenes With a Political Consultant 8

    Michael Trujillo can't quite shake this cough. He's had it for weeks, picked up on the campaign trail. He needs to meet his mother in the Valley to get one of his old inhalers, which he places on his desk next to a laptop and a bottle of Advil. "There's...
  • When Guerrilla Marketing Met the LAPD

    There are many ways to capture the attention of the Los Angeles Police Department. Aiming a massive white light toward the sky can probably be added to the list. At least that's the story of 29-year-old Greg Cayea, a public relations and marketing guru who's producing next month's edgy Carpe...
  • Another Body 2

    Los Angeles police this week again asked for the public's help in identifying a woman whose remains were found at a recycling center in 2010. The right tip could earn $50,000 in reward money. "Based on how she was disposed, we do believe it was a homicide," Los Angeles Police...

From behind the wheel, Gonzales saw the boy put his hands up, as if he wanted to avoid trouble. The boy approached the bus, apparently looking to climb aboard. Then, at the last minute, 17-year-old Chris Castellanos broke into a run.

As Castellanos darted across the street, one pursuer opened fire, striking him twice in the back. The boy hit the ground. The gunman kept firing, sending six more bullets into Castellanos, a junior at Cantwell Sacred Heart of Mary, a prep school in Montebello. As the gunman ran down Boyle Avenue, the bus driver — in a state of shock — continued driving until a passenger broke the silence and urged him to call the police.

The slaying of Chris Castellanos was the first truly horrific murder of 2006, the type of killing that sends a chill through any parent waiting for a child to come home from the market or the movies or the mall. It happened at 10 a.m. on a busy boulevard. Witnesses were plentiful — one in a parking lot, another in a car. Castellanos had one dollar and two quarters and, prosecutors say, died because he didn’t give them up.

The man arrested a few hours later was all too willing to talk about that fact, according to testimony by police months later. Sitting in a hospital with injuries sustained while fleeing police, 22-year-old Aymar Josua Torres told police he planned to rob someone and knew that if his victim got crazy, he’d have to kill him.

“He leaned over and, in what I would describe as a bragging tone, kind of, said, ‘You know, I think I shot that guy like 10 times,’ ” testified officer Brent McGuyre. “ ‘You know, most homies would just shoot once or twice, then run. But I shot 10 times.’ ”

The death of Castellanos, who had written about going to college and possibly becoming a doctor, earned no mention in the Los Angeles Times. NBC Channel 4 aired the standard helicopter shot of the crime scene and news of Torres’ arrest. But then, there would always be another homicide in Los Angeles — 477 more in 2006, to be exact. And quietly, the effects of the January 3 killing metastasized, spreading poison far beyond the corner of Whittier and Boyle.

The murder devastated Castellanos’ parents and grandparents, siblings and cousins. Word spread through Boyle Heights, astounding even those accustomed to gang violence. The news reached the boy’s friends, who filled his MySpace page with tributes. Eight months later, on his birthday, the page received 23 birthday greetings, most acknowledging that Castellanos never lived to turn 18.

Castellanos tried to project a thugged-out image on his Web site, wearing dark glasses and going by the nickname “$$lokz$$.” Yet he sounded vulnerable too. Asked to describe his greatest fear, he had written: “Losing my family.” Quizzed on how he wanted to die, the boy wrote: “In my sleep.”

THE QUESTION

Forty-eight hours after Chris Castellanos fell to the pavement, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief William Bratton held a celebration of sorts, commemorating L.A.’s progress in reducing crime. As the mayor and the chief unveiled end-of-the-year crime statistics for 2005, they proudly declared that Los Angeles had become the nation’s second-safest big city, surpassing San Diego and falling just behind New York. Villaraigosa bragged that Angelenos were safer than at any point since 1956, a much sleepier era by nearly every measure.

The boast was a bit of a stretch. Although overall crime was indeed down, Angelenos at the end of 2005 were nearly twice as likely to experience a violent crime as in the era of Leave It to Beaver. Furthermore, the murder rate in Los Angeles remained twice the level found in New York — a metropolis enjoying a 15-year decline in homicides. New York had 539 murders in 2005, just 49 more than Los Angeles. New York also had twice the population.

Related Content

Now Trending

  • California Bans the Bag

    The plastic bag will go the way of the iPod and become extinct under a statewide law signed today by Gov. Jerry Brown. And thus, California becomes the first state in the nation to ban the bag. As you know, we already banned plastic bags both in the city and...
  • Downtown L.A. Stadium Dream Is Still Alive ... Barely

    The folks behind a four-year-old dream to build a stadium called Farmers Field next to Staples Center downtown want six more months to see if it can happen. Anschutz Entertainment Group, operator of Staples and L.A. Live, said in a statement late yesterday that it's asking L.A. city leaders for...
  • Eric Garcetti Ups the Jargon, Vows to "Follow from the Front"

    Mayor Eric Garcetti took the stage Monday at the Atlantic's CityLab conference and did what he does best — talked fluently for nearly 20 minutes without really saying anything. The event is hosted by the Aspen Institute and Bloomberg Philanthropies — it's sort of a second-tier Davos — so Garcetti adopted the...
Los Angeles Concert Tickets