LOS ANGELES — Two teens were shot and wounded in an apparent gang shooting Thursday outside a Los Angeles recreation center that is part of the city’s program to reduce violence in the streets by keeping public parks well-lit and open at night, police said.
A 15-year-old girl was shot in the back and a 19-year-old man was shot in the hand as they were leaving a Summer Night Lights event at the Wilmington Recreation Center, Lt. John Pasquariello said. They were hospitalized in critical condition.
The shooting came hours before delegates to the U.S. Conference of Mayors Summer Leadership Meeting in Los Angeles planned to attend a similar program in Boyle Heights. It was also the second time in a week that violence has erupted after one of the Summer Night Lights events, which are open from 8 p.m. until midnight and attended by police and gang-intervention workers.
A man was shot in the face near a South Los Angeles park after the lights were turned out last week. 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.
The Summer Night Lights program was created to curtail gang violence during the summer 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.
But Thursday’s 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.