Wednesday, September 01, 2004

His name was Richard

On Monday, Aug. 30, during the afternoon I was doing my normal thing, just sitting on the couch and reading. It was kinda warm so I had the front door open to let in the cross breeze through the screen door. About 4:30ish I notice the silhouette of a guy milling around in front of the door down the hall from me. He seems to be knocking on that screen door. After another minute he approaches the door to my apartment.

"excuse me, have you seen the older gentleman who lives in this apartment. he's my grandfather," says the guy who appears to be about my age, maybe a little older.

"no, sorry, haven't seen him in a while." i replied. "Is something wrong?"

"well, no one has seen or heard from my grandfather in days. we've called but no one is answering and right now his door is locked," he says. "and what's the deal with these screen doors? how to they lock, because his is locked."

"well, they lock from the inside."

"wait, from the inside," he interrupts me.

"yeah," i said.

"and there's no way that they can lock from the outside?" he asks, his voice quickening.

"no, uh, sorry," i reply, starting to get a bad feeling.

The guy disappears and returns about 10-15 minutes later with two Los Angeles firefighters. I can overhear them asking him questions about his grandfather's health. the grandson explains that his grandfather is older and on several medications. Meanwhile, one firefighter is taking the screen door off its hinges, while the other is trying to enter the apartment through the window (which faces east and is right next to the walkway, which leans to the main area with the mailboxes in our apartment building). This firefighter makes his way into the apartment and emerges from the apartment, having unlocked the door.

The guy is immediately distraught, not hysterical or anything, but clearly they've discovered his grandfather and he's dead. After a couple minutes the firefighters start explaining the procedure of what's going to happen next -- the cops will come and he'll have some questions to answer. The grandson though is too broken up and he asks for a minute to gather himself and he leaves the apartment area and walks down to the street. I'm assuming at this point that they've unfortunately discovered that his grandfather has had like a heart attack or something.

I get on the phone and call scott (roommate) to let him know the bad news. i also call another friend. having something like this happen was something that provoked that human instinct to share with someone else, ya know? well, after those phone calls i start reading again. the door remains open -- i'll admit mostly out of a desire to know what's going on but also to let the grandson know that if he needs any help or whatever, that he can ask. however, he's not really anywhere to be seen, so i figure that he's making calls or something.

Soon after that -- it's probably around 5:30ish at this point -- i actually fall asleep reading. When I wake up about an hour later the scene has changed. There's yellow police tape stretching from my door to the door in the hallway (the tape forms the hypotenuse of the triangle). Essentially, i am taped in. I notice at least four uniformed police officers and a couple detectives in ties and a few black and whites (cop cars) in the street. It seems excessive, but i figure that they need to treat this as a crime scene initially. if they were to let people in there, like family, and stuff immediately and they moved stuff and then they found out something suspicious about the death, the cops would have a problem. they wouldn't be able to take back that mistake, so i figured that while this seemed more than necessary, i wasn't really questioning anything.

however, after another hour i've noticed that there are even more detectives there and more cars and more uniformed officers, too. at this point, while i haven't overheard anything from any cops that clearly indicated anything suspicious, i'm obviously thinking the worst. i'm wondering why no one has asked me anything, so when i overhear a detective asking someone who removed the screen door, i volunteer that it was the firefighter. the detective thx me, but that's it. i leave my door open and then go back to reading. i also call scott and give him a head's up and let him know that he should probably stay on campus later tonight, b/c it doesn't look like the cops are letting people in and out of the building. maybe an hour later (some time between 7:30 and 8 p.m.) they do let someone out. My upstairs neighbor is allowed to go to his tae kwon doe class, he's instructed to press his body against the wall opposite the doorway so as not to interfere with anything.

by 8:15 p.m. scott shows up and he's told that he's gotta stay outside. i'm still in the apartment. no one has asked me anything, and i haven't actually heard anything. the cops seem really busy so i don't want to interrupt. scott calls again and says he's considering heading up to his girlfriend's monday night. he has groceries in his car and doesn't want them to spoil. however, over the course of the next hour he's talking to our landlord who's out there, too and other onlookers. he calls and says that the word on the street is that the man was shot. the cops are examining the screen outside the window, which faces the street. this is the first i've heard of anything like that. in the meantime, the county coroner has shown up, bringing the number of people on the scene to what must be at least 20. scott confirms my total from his observations made from the street below. (the first floor of apartments is actually the second floor of the building). the people from the coroner's office are taking lots of pix. still no firm idea on what's going on and no sign of the family, either. i'm assuming that they're taking care of their arrangements and are no longer needed on the scene.

by around 9:30 p.m. they start wrapping their investigation and letting the tenants into the building. scott says that our neighbor was shot based on what he's learned. a few minutes after scott came in a detective comes into our apartment and asks us if we've heard or seen anything weird or unusual in the last week that might help explain our neighbor's death. scott and i are both shocked. we, unfortunately, have nothing to offer in terms of a lead. i had been out of town until late tuesday night and been working each day.

suddenly i became the person i had interviewed all those times i had to cover murders and traffic fatalities, who could say only that the person was quiet and that they didn't know him/her very well. our neighbor had only moved in about two months ago, and i had only seen him literally a handful of times. he was an older man whose door was always closed when i got home from work, so i wasn't going to disturb him or anything. the cop takes our phone numbers and asks us to call him if we can think of anything that might help in the investigation. the cops leave and take the screen doors with them.

shortly after that our other neighbors, andy and tatiana, came by. they also didn't know anything, but tatiana at least knew our neighbor's name. he was frank and he was very easy to talk to, she said. suddenly all the questions that i could have asked the detective... that i should have asked the detective.... that i would have asked the detective had i been a reporter covering this in albany flooded me. what was his name? what do think happened? when did this happen? do you think it was planned or random?

after tatiana and andy stopped by they later convened outside with scott and our upstairs neighbors, including the guy returning from tae kwon doe class. scott learns that he saw frank's body as he was leaving the apartment. tatiana had heard from a cop while waiting outside that they think it was random. scott is naturally disturbed by what happened and says he would think about moving. i am trying to figure out how a bullet could come up from the street and kill a man in his apartment if it was random. it would have had to have been such a remote chance of it coming up from what would have been a minimum 50 feet away and then strike the body in a place that would be fatal. at this weird inclined angle. i doesn't make sense.

i'm saddened obviously, but apparently not as troubled as scott. we live in a decent neighborhood with lots of families, an elem school within walking distance and as safe as pretty much any neighborhood i could afford in los angeles. this was just a sad random act that claimed a nice man named, frank.

a day later, i'm still sad, though unsure of what to do. unfortunately, and in this case i hate L.A., it's too big here to learn much. the LA Times doesn't cover stories like this -- they're too common -- at least not in depth. and there is no smaller paper devoted to stuff like this either. so hopefully i'll find out more about frank.

worry not about me though, i'm fine. just take a moment though and try to remember to reach out to strangers.

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