String of South LA Slayings Contrast LA's Decreasing Homicide Rate

Three homicides in the last three months reflect an increase in South LA crime despite an overall decrease in Los Angeles

By Christina Cocca and Kim Baldonado
|  Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013  |  Updated 12:06 PM PDT
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Investigators in South Los Angeles try to figure out who is responsible for the shooting death of 14-year-old boy as he was walking home. He is the latest victim in a string of slayings that have plagued South LA in the last two months. Kim Baldonado reports from South Los Angeles for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013.

Kim Baldonado

Investigators in South Los Angeles try to figure out who is responsible for the shooting death of 14-year-old boy as he was walking home. He is the latest victim in a string of slayings that have plagued South LA in the last two months. Kim Baldonado reports from South Los Angeles for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013.

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A teenager who was shot and killed walking blocks away from his own home is just the latest victim in a string of killings to galvanize residents of South Los Angeles.

At a vigil on Tuesday for Elawnza Peebles, 14, family members and South LA residents called for action.

Peebles was shot and killed while walking home from his uncle's house in his new neighborhood.

"Don’t let this candle ceremony be the end, let it be the beginning," said Peebles’ relative Lucy Howard. "Let your child be able to walk home."

Though police say many of the crimes in South LA are related to gangs or drugs, that was not the case with Peebles, nor with Martha Sanchez who was shot to death while at work, nor with Rene Balbuena who was killed in front of his son.

Sanchez, 39, was gunned down Sept. 17 while working the night shift at the Happy Bargain 99 Cent store. A lone gunman shot the mother of five inside of the store as she was closing the shop.

One month later, a 41-year-old father of two was shot and killed in front of his 15-year-old son when he responded to a Craigslist ad for a cell phone. Two teenage gang members are accused of using a Craigslist ad to lure the man, Rene Balbuena, to the 9200 block of Gramercy Place near 92nd Street in South LA on Oct. 19.

"It’s not people in the wrong place at the wrong time," said LAPD Detective Sal LaBarbera. "These are people who have every right, like our 14-year-old, to walk down the sidewalk to go home."

Those three homicides all within the last three months have been in the LAPD’s South Bureau, which has seen a 9 percent increase in homicides this year despite a 12 percent decrease in the overall homicide rate for Los Angeles.

"Most recently, on the Craigslist and stork clerk homicides, we’ve had a lot of outpouring from our community as far as witnesses and people who helped solve the murders," LaBarbera said.

Police hope they will have the same success in identifying suspects in Peebles’ slaying.

Since being identified and charged, the teens accused of killing Balbeuna pleaded not guilty in his death. The man accused of killing Sanchez also pleaded not guilty.

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