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Silence, fear after 15-year old girl is shot to death

The landlord of the building where Saray Rivas was shot and killed shows the bullet hole apartment #6. Credit: Mary Slosson

Fifteen-year-old Saray Rivas was shot and killed in a part of Los Angeles where residents are afraid to talk, where silence eats up questions about immigration status, gang violence and even murder.

Saray lay in a pool of her own blood for more than 12 hours after being shot in an Arlington Heights apartment because nobody wanted the police around asking questions, witnesses said.

When police did come, they were met with silence.

Days after Saray Rivas, 15, was found shot to death, a pool of blood remained on the floor. Credit: Mary SlossonLAPD homicide Detective John Jamison said a 17-year-old Latina "basically confessed" on Feb. 21 and was arrested in connection with the killing. Her name was not released because she is a juvenile. Jamison said she is a resident of Los Angeles.

"Once the shooting occurred, everybody left the location," Jamison said.

The apartment, at 1307 3rd Ave., was rented to a woman who "wasn’t home when the shooting occurred inside her apartment," Jamison said.

The known facts, provided by the Los Angeles County coroner, are few: Rivas was shot in the left eye with a small-caliber gun. The bullet exited through the back of her head.

Saray’s body was discovered by the renter of the apartment, Maria Elena, and her 18-year-old son. They walked to the nearby station to report the crime. Emergency workers forced open the locked door of the rundown 1970s-era apartment complex and found Rivas’ body on the floor. No one was in the second-story apartment.

Police detained Elena's son, Thomas, for questioning and kept him in custody for 48 hours before he was released without charges, Jamison said.

Although officials suspect that gang members are involved in the incident, Jamison said he would not label the crime "gang-related."

“It was kind of a party,” although at the time of the shooting only three girls were inside of the apartment,  Jamison said.

"Based on interviews in the investigation, I don’t think that it was an accident," he added.

Several witnesses say that the shooting happened around 3 p.m. on Feb. 19., but police say they believe Saray was shot the following afternoon.

Residents who said they witnessed the aftermath of Rivas’ death spoke to reporters on the condition that they not be named, saying they feared retribution.

Flowers sit at the door to the apartment where Saray Rivas was found dead in a pool of her own blood. Credit: Mary Slosson“[The police] came and had a lot of questions. They asked who was living in the apartment, they asked for the papers of everybody who lived there,” recalled the superintendent of the complex. “And another question, ‘Did anybody know what happened?' Everybody said, 'No no, no.' ”

Witnesses said no one knew anything about the victim. Neither did Los Angeles Unified School District officials, who said they had no record of her attending school for the last two years.

One tenant noted that the building’s one-room apartments are not insulated.

"You can hear everything in this building," he said. “So, of course people heard it. It’s just that no one wants to talk. No one wants to be targeted."

The owner of a nearby business, who also asked not to be identified, said the area is normally tranquil. She says she often works until 3 a.m. and then walks the three blocks to her home alone. Outside of people from other neighborhoods tagging nearby buildings with graffiti, she said, she had never spotted trouble before.

However, another resident of the complex says a gang, the Harpies, controls the block on which the slaying happened.

The next block? Controlled by the Crazy Riders. A few more blocks, and Mara Salvatrucha territory begins.

“I just feel bad for the girl," Elena said in a phone interview. "I want to move on. I don’t want to think about it.”

-- Benjamin Gottlieb and Mary Slosson in Arlington Heights USC’s Neon Tommy/Annenberg Digital News

Editors' note: The Times and Annenberg Digital News at USC's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism are continuing a collaboration on the Homicide Report. Our hope is that this will provide readers with more frequent 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.

Upper photo: The landlord of the building where Saray Rivas, 15, was found shot to death shows the bullet hole in the wall. Middle photo: Days after Saray was found dead, a pool of blood remained on the floor. Lower photo: Flowers sit at the door to the apartment where the slaying occurred. Credit: Mary Slosson

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