When Kena Evans heard gunshots early Monday morning outside her Venice apartment, the first thing she did was call her son.
Ty Bray, 18, a 2021 Venice High School graduate, had been driving home with a friend in his lovingly restored 1979 Cadillac when shots rang out about 2:30 a.m., she said.
“The (passenger) was the one who answered the phone,” Evans said. “She didn’t know where she was.”
Surveillance footage shows the Cadillac being chased by another car for several blocks. Police said the pursuer fired repeatedly into the car before Bray flipped it into the yard of a home on Rose Avenue. The passenger was taken to the hospital with multiple gunshot wounds, and Bray was pronounced dead at the scene, making him one of more than a dozen Angelenos killed this Fourth of July weekend.
Police could not immediately say if this holiday weekend was bloodier than past ones. But killings in L.A. have continued to spike in recent months, following a 31% increase across California in 2020. According to Los Angeles Police Department data collected through June 26, local shootings were up more than 50% from the same period last year, and homicides were up by about 25%. Though far below its peak in the 1990s, the violence is worse than it has been in years, many in the community say.
“I’ve been working here 21 years, and before, it was rare to see something like that,” said Hugo Mendez, who manages the 76 gas station half a block from the wreckage on Rose Avenue. “Now there’s a lot of violence.”
Between Friday afternoon and Monday morning, the LAPD recorded 12 killings, and the sheriff’s department at least four more.
Among the dead was Luis Mendez, who was killed Saturday afternoon in a shooting on Highway 60 in Hacienda Heights; his two teenage sons, who were in the car with him, were injured. Twelve hours later, Fatima Johnson was found slain in her home in La Habra Heights. In addition to Bray, at least two other Angelenos were shot to death Monday before noon.
“This has been the worst uptick in violence I’ve seen in my lifetime,” said Najee Ali, a community activist and friend of Johnson, who he said was found hogtied and rolled in a carpet. “There’s been a dramatic increase in gun violence, not just locally but nationally. I’m someone who called for the realignment of resources, but we never called for the police to be removed from South L.A.”
He and others believe the surge in violence is part of the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. Data from 2020 show a clear increase in shootings and killings that spiked last summer and has yet to level off.
Shootings are still far less common than they were in the 1990s. But that’s little consolation for the families and friends of young victims like Bray.
“Ty was one of the most positive people you ever met. All he cared about was supporting his family,” said Joseph “J.R.” Rotimi, a former Venice High football teammate of Bray, who wept along with dozens of others at the crash site Monday morning. “He was the man of the house.”
Bray had never been in trouble — had never even been fingerprinted, his mother said. When he graduated June 12, he bought himself a suit rather than throw a party.
“He didn’t even get to wear it yet,” she said.
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