'I turned around and had two guns straight in my face'
On a Saturday morning in March, sisters Crystal and Cynthia Lopez looked out their window in their quiet West Adams neighborhood and saw an elderly lady walking her dog.
Then seven gunshots shattered the peace, and they saw two cars speed in different directions down the street. One was a familiar white Chevy Monte Carlo, the other a red car they did not recognize.
Only later did they learn they had just witnessed the last moments in the life of their friend Daniel Silva, an 18-year-old known as the peacekeeper of the neighborhood.
Called ‘Monster’ for his unruly energy, Silva was a fixture of the West Adams neighborhood, his friends said, able to bring together people of different ages and races with his infectious smile. Silva could often be seen riding his fixed-gear bicycle around the neighborhood with his friends. He loved taking pictures of himself, his friends recalled, and eating conchas - a Mexican sweet bun topped with flavored sugar.
“He could eat like 20 of those,” said Crystal Lopez, 20.
About 10 a.m. on March 12, Silva was sitting in the passenger seat of the Monte Carlo, which was stopped in the 2900 block of Alsace Avenue. He was talking with the car’s driver, Fernando Flores, when another car drove by.
“There were seven shots,” Flores said. “I had my back to the street and I was talking to Danny. I turned around and had two guns straight in my face -- a 40 Glock and a .44.”
Flores’ first reaction was to duck and pull Silva down with him, he said. His quick impulses saved his life. But his passenger could not evade the gunfire.
Silva was shot several times. With his passenger wounded, the uninjured Flores said he sped away, driving frantically along L.A.’s streets looking for the nearest hospital. Silva was still alive when Flores finally flagged down an ambulance driving down the street, which in turn called another ambulance that took Silva to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, according to Lt. Fred Corral, an investigator for the coroner’s office.
They "flagged down a passing vehicle, told them he had been shot, then he collapsed,” Corral said. The first ambulance was unable to take Silva, but called another ambulance that “transported him to the hospital, where he died.”
A former Dorsey High School student, his friends believe Silva is the latest casualty in the racial tensions between blacks and Latinos over territory in South Los Angeles.
Police said it was not clear that racial differences played a role in the shooting.
“I wouldn’t say that it was racially motivated,” said LAPD Det. Charles Geiger of the Criminal Gang Homicide Division, who is investigating the killing. “Then you could say that about any black on Latino, Latino on white crime. You could say that every crime that involves two different races is racially motivated.”
Since January 2007, 18 homicides have been reported in the West Adams area, all involving either a black or Latino victim.
Multiple witnesses described the gunmen as two black males driving a red sedan that was not from the neighborhood.
Police officials confirm that they are “actively looking” for a red four-door vehicle, exact make and model as yet unknown.
Flores worries that someone is looking for him, he says, and he no longer responds to his own name when called on the street.
“I’ve got kids now, I don’t need this [stuff] no more,” Flores said in reference to the racially charged violence in the area.
“As much as people want to deny it, there is gang conflict and things here,” according to one resident who did not want to be named.
Residents and law enforcement officials say that Silva was an innocent victim of the gang wars around him.
“I know for a fact that Daniel Silva was not a gang member,” said Geiger. “He was well-liked in the neighborhood. However, that doesn’t rule out a gang motivation. It could have been a case of mistaken identity.”
He acknowledged that the area is “quite a thoroughfare” for gangs. Unlike in other parts of the city, where a single gang typically controls a given area, in West Adams “it wouldn’t even be fair to say that there’s just one gang.”
Across the street from where the shooting happened is an abandoned house tagged with 18th Street gang graffiti. On the sidewalk in front of the house is more 18th Street graffiti that’s been painted over with MS-13 graffiti.
Bordering the primarily Latino neighborhood of West Adams is another gang territory referred to as “the jungle” by locals. It is home to the Bloods gang.
When asked about the motives of the assailants, resident Frank Lopez had a simple explanation: “Hatred.”
“We know this thing is going on,” Lopez said. “Normally [the gangs] go after each other. But again, how do they distinguish? They really can’t.”
While major gang activity has decreased significantly due to the gang injunctions, residents say smaller neighborhood groups are still active.
Friends and family hosted a car wash to raise money for Silva’s family. The event brought in more than $5,000.
“There were people who had issues with others who were getting together to raise money,” for his family after Silva’s death, said Cynthia Lopez, 17, Crystal’s younger sister. “And even him being gone, he still has that power to unite people. Not only when he was alive, but now, still.”
Friends made sweatshirts with photographs of Silva silk-screened on the back. Crystal instead chose to carve her memorial to Monster in ink and got the Monster energy drink logo tattooed on her forearm.
“Even if you’re not in a gang, if you look a certain way, they’re gonna get you,” Crystal said. “That’s the hard part of life. You could be the nicest guy, just like Danny was, not gang affiliated at all. He just wanted to unite everyone. And he got the total opposite.”
-- Benjamin Gottlieb and Mary Slosson USC’s Neon Tommy/Annenberg Digital News
Photos: (top) Fernando Flores' Chevy Monte Carlo with exit holes from the bullets that killed Daniel Silva; (middle) A photo of Daniel Silva at the site of the shooting on Alsace Avenue. (bottom) Crystal Lopez, 20, displays the Monster tattoo she got after the death of her friend, Daniel Silva. Credit: Mary Slosson
Editors' note: This post is one in an occasional series done in collaboration between The Times and Annenberg Digital News at USC's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. Our hope is that this will provide readers with more frequent Homicide Report dispatches from the field, as well as give student journalists valuable crime-reporting experience. — Megan Garvey / Los Angeles Times and Alan Mittelstaedt / Annenberg Digital News.