Two teens were shot and wounded in an apparent gang shooting Thursday outside a Los Angeles park participating in the city's much-vaunted program to reduce violence in the streets by keeping recreation areas well-lit and open at night.
The shooting came a day before delegates at a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting were to visit another park in the program trumpeted as a model for other cities.
It was also the second time in eight days that violence erupted after a Summer Night Lights event, which keeps parks open until midnight and employs officers and gang-intervention workers to keep them safe. Police were evaluating how best to deploy officers to prevent more attacks.
Thursday's shooting happened just after midnight as a 15-year-old girl and an 18-year-old man were leaving the recreation center in the gritty Wilmington community near the Port of Los Angeles.
Several gang members were seen circling the park in a dark-colored sedan when someone opened fire from the car into a crowd of about 40 people, officer S. Coffee said. The girl was shot in the back and man struck in the chest. They were hospitalized in critical but stable condition.
Coffee said it was not clear if the shooter was targeting the two victims or had fired indiscriminately. Neither victim was a documented gang member.
On July 13, a man was shot in the face near a South Los Angeles park after the lights were turned off. It provided all-too-real drama for actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena, who were on scene at the time while on a police ride-along to prepare for an upcoming movie.
Summer Night Lights was created to reduce gang violence, which can spike during summer months, by lighting up 32 parks and recreation centers, where youngsters are supervised as they play sports, watch movies or participate in other activities.
City officials have credited it with drastic crime reductions: Since the program began in 2008, homicides have dropped by more than half and violent crime has fallen by 40 percent. More locations have been added yearly even as the city made cuts elsewhere.
Visalia in California's Central Valley, Long Beach and Jacksonville, Fla., have started programs based on Summer Night Lights.
The latest shooting highlighted the inherent dangers for young people living in gang-infested neighborhoods, said Guillermo Cespedes, city deputy mayor for gang reduction.
"This is absolutely unfortunate," Cespedes said. "We are picking some of the most volatile sites in the city because it's a violence-reduction program."
Cespedes said there had been several violent incidents around closing time at previous events, but there had never been a shooting inside a park itself.
Deputy Chief Pat Gannon said he would beef up police presence around closing time at parks.
"We are going to adjust our deployments to make sure we are not leaving ourselves vulnerable," he said.
About 50 U.S. mayors were planning to visit a Boyle Heights park to learn more about the Summer Night Lights program.