Only two months since the New Year and it’s already been a rough one for Wilmington. There have been eight murders in the Harbor Area since the beginning of the year and seven of them occurred in Wilmington.
This is extremely high considering that some other high-crime areas of Los Angeles haven’t had any homicides. After the first killing January 2, when 28-year-old Cristian Zugey Alvarez was found slain in bushes near train tracks, residents have been living in paranoia.
After Alvarez' murder, four more people were killed in January. Then last night Meldrick A. Melgoza and his girlfriend, Carolina Ramirez, both 16, were shot to death as they walked on F Street at Bay View Avenue just after 7pm, police said.
The crime did not appear to be gang-related, according to officials.
“No, I don’t feel safe at all, not for myself, not for my kids, for nobody,” said Donna Narez, Wilmington resident. “There have been too many homicides, rapes [and] attempted kidnappings.”
After steadily decreasing for several years, homicides in the Harbor Area increased from 18 in 2010 to 31 in 2011, according to Lt. David W. McGill, Los Angeles Police Department patrol officer.
Although the main cause of the current spike in homicides continues to be undetermined, the LAPD has been working hard to solve these cases, said McGill.
"We have leads but we’re waiting for some forensic tests and additional witnesses," said LAPD Captain William Hayes. "We have made an arrest on the January 30 shooting that killed two men."
Officials have been looking for trends and trying to speak to possible witnesses to help resolve the spike in violence.
"People need to speak so we can get what we want: to get these criminals off the street," said Hayes.
Alvarez’s murder still remains unsolved; however, police officials told the Daily Breeze that it possibly occurred during a sexual assault. Her body was left on the BNSF Railway property near L Street and Hyatt Avenue. Her throat had been cut and her pants were pulled down.
In response to the increase in killings, the LAPD hosted a homicide update meeting in early February at Holy Family Parish and introduced the Lights On campaign, asking residents who live along L Street to turn their porch lights on and walk the streets with police.
At the walks along L Street about two weeks ago the campaign seemed to gain a lot of community support but everyone is unsure how long the momentum will last.
Recently elected Councilman Joe Buscaino joined residents on the walk and said in a video created that night by his office, “We’ve had enough of these homicides in Wilmington and it’s great to see the community coming together. This is exactly what it takes - that relationship between the police department and the community - to send a message that enough is enough.”
The rise in violence has caused stress and anxiety in the community, which can lead to serious health problems, according to Dr. Nabil El Sayad, who has practiced internal medicine in Wilmington for more than 10 years.
“Families that have kids involved in gangs go through a lot of stress, anxiety and depression because they don’t know how to deal with their own family,” said El Sayad. “Even for people that have not lost a relative to gang violence, to hear that it’s happening in their community makes people feel unsafe and scared all the time.”
Even though police officials have flooded the streets of Wilmington patrolling all day and night, a main challenge they continue to face is getting witnesses to speak out.
“Residents have been [in Wilmington] for a long time and people know one another and sometimes when we reach this point where people see things, they are reluctant to come forward because they're scared,” said McGill. “There’s just been no information forthcoming to help us solve the cases.”