March 11th, 2010
08:00 AM ET

Gang loyalty and rivalry led to death

Program Note: Five years ago we reported on gang violence in the Los Angeles community of Hollenbeck. This week, all week, we follow up on the neighborhood. Through the eyes of cops, criminals and crusaders, we witness the corrosive effects of violence and what's being done to prevent it. We take you inside the investigations of homicides as they unfold in a community where 30 percent of all killings remain unsolved. AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/03/10/ayala.jpg caption=" Gang member Gabriel Ayala was killed in October 2004. Police believe Ayala was killed by a member of his own gang."]

Stan Wilson

CNN Producer

Los Angeles Police Detective Dewaine Field has solved dozens of gang-related murders in his thirty year law enforcement career. As supervisor of the gang unit in Hollenbeck, part of his job is breaking the code of silence and persuading informants to come forward. Fields says breaking that code in a gang-related murder is one of the most difficult challenges of solving a murder case.

In Hollenbeck, nearly thirty percent of the gang-related killings go unsolved because witnesses or informants refuse to talk. Even the perception of breaking the gang code of silence within a gang can result in death, says Fields.

The unsolved murder of gang member Gabriel Ayala is the type of case detective Fields is referring to. On October 16, 2004, Ayala was shot in the head at close range just moments before CNN cameras arrived in his Hollenbeck neighborhood. Fields says he knew Ayala well and used to serve warrants at Ayala's residence. "Gabriel's time was coming, he was too active, he played too hard trying to be too tough in his gang and it caught up to him," said Fields.

When Fields first examined the crime scene, he told homicide detectives it looked like an inside job. "Gabriel had a gun in his waist and never pulled it out and that tells me that he knew whoever killed him." Fields believes the events leading up to Ayala's execution began long ago.

Two years before Ayala was killed, a rival gang member, Francisco Sanchez was approached by two gunmen on a Hollenbeck area street. According to court records, the first suspect shot Sanchez multiple times. As Sanchez fell to the ground, a second suspect approached him and shot Sanchez again, records show.

Authorities suspect the murder of Sanchez was in retaliation for the killing of a rival two days earlier.

Gabriel Ayala was one of the suspected shooters charged with killing Sanchez but the case against him was dismissed. "It was a mistrial," said Fields. "His co-defendant from the same gang, the guy that was involved in the murder with him, was held on a separate charge so he was in custody and Gabriel got released."

Ayala's co-defendant, a member of the same gang, was prosecuted and convicted of first degree murder.

So what did his gang think?" said Fields. "Thought he'd throw a rat, thought he'd talked. They considered him a snitch and Gabriel hadn't told us anything," he said. "They killed him for nothing. He didn't tell us anything and his cohort was later convicted for that murder, as would have been if Ayala had survived."

Six years after his death, Ayala's murder remains unsolved and Fields is still looking for that informant to talk. In the tug of war, between gang rivalry and gang loyalty, Ayala became a victim of both. Fields says it's one of the most difficult murders to solve because it's a suspected inside hit. The detective needs someone inside Ayala's gang to talk, someone who has a reason to say everything he knows about who killed Gabriel Ayala.

"There are people in that gang that know who did it and why they did it", said Fields. "But for someone from his gang to tell me that a fellow gang member killed him? That's gonna be a tough one," he said.

Though, the detective admits if one of them is arrested for something else it could help him. "That's what I can hope for," Fields told Anderson Cooper. "You'll be waiting for em," asked Anderson. "I'll be here. I'm not going anywhere," replied Fields.

Filed under: Homicide in Hollenbeck
soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. NewGenGangsta

    gangs arent about drugs or violence. they're about money. getting as much as you can. selling, but not touching it yourself.

    oh and the police are corrupt. most of them smoke weed in our area.

    March 11, 2010 at 4:40 pm |
  2. Someone who cares

    Gang members are real people.

    Suggest you read: "Tattoos on the Heart" by Gregory Boyle, who has transformed the Hollenbeck community.

    Kinship. Let's take part in it. You are not better than any of the people mentioned above. When there is a lack of resources, and something has been imprinted on your life as normalcy–then you will follow. It's the "barrio"–the "hood"–it's the way some people HAVE to live.

    March 11, 2010 at 4:35 pm |

    As a gang member myself, people are quicc to saying that all gang members kill rivals, get caught stealing and sell drugs drugs...people judge us every day for that...but its not what we do!! we help people, we do good in our communities. It's these new young people that have taken the original reason for gangs out of hand. But if a gang life is all you can have, then you gotta take what you can get. It's not the bad, and horrible life that society forces into your mind. It's far from it.

    March 11, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
  4. 1outlawman

    The sad thing about gang is also an ethnic issue which is a way of life in some of this economically challenge neighborhoods.

    March 11, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
  5. baatman74

    So, if you don't join a the gang, you are nothing. No friends, kept out of social interaction. So, move out of the neighborhood... I say joining the gang is a choice and wanting to be a part of it, wanting to steal and fight with riveal gangs, sometimes that is the only thing that defines kids in some neighborhoods. Bottom line; Outsiders should not get involved with a gang member being 'taken out' like this. Leave it alone and save tax payers a lot of money, and one less to worry about... Gang 'self regulating.'

    March 11, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
  6. Bruce

    Who cares about Hollenbeck or any othe gang infested community. Every society will have this underbelly element which will never be solved. The best we can do curb the grown of this trash is significantly increase the penalties for crime and lock them these troublemakers up so they can't make more troublemakers.

    March 11, 2010 at 4:14 pm |
  7. dr death

    When these kind of crimes happen the only ones hurt are their families. The rest of society does benefit due to the fact that these criminals will be in prison and we would be the one's paying for it. Let them kill each other as long as innocent people do not get hurt. This is just another example of you liberals trying to save everyone. What do we do with trash? We through it out!

    March 11, 2010 at 4:09 pm |
  8. Andy

    I used to think as some of you do before I began teaching high school in downtown Los Angeles. I went in with the attitude that gangs are a choice and we just have to show the kids alternatives. While in fairy tales that is plausible, the reality is that if your relative, neighbors, friends and community are in gangs, there is a good chance you will be too. It's easy for us on the outside to say, "Hey, don't do that, gangs are bad for you!", but these kids live it 24-7. Why did the suburban high school I attend have 90% of its students go to college? Because 90% of our parents went to college and were professionals, business owners, etc. Not surprising that inner city schools a much higher drop out rate than graduation rate.

    I heard of one student that was jumped into the neighborhood gang because he had lived on the street too long. From that point on, he was a member whether he liked or not, and was told that of he didn't represent the gang, he would be in trouble.

    March 11, 2010 at 4:01 pm |
  9. Josiah

    Pragmatic Solutions – You miss the point about snitching as do many who report on the topic. It's not even about being ostracized as much as it's about staying alive. If you narc on somebody your life is in jeaporady. Why would you risk your own life to help a cop who only cares about solving the case? The police are not going to protect you, they are using you for information. I'd rather live than essentially risk my life to do the police a favor in helping them solve a case. There is no incentive to tell the police anything unless it's your family or friend that died. The right thing in this case could cost you your life. It's not really worth it.

    March 11, 2010 at 4:01 pm |
  10. Jose

    Gang members are a bunch of nobodies, who hate themselves and have to be around other guys to feel macho. A politician is far more dangerous.

    March 11, 2010 at 4:00 pm |
  11. muffinman

    sounds like a problem that took care of itself

    March 11, 2010 at 3:55 pm |
  12. Specialk

    Thank you mom and dad. I am so thankful that you raised me in a normal environment with love. I cant imagine living like people do involved with these gangs.

    March 11, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
  13. John

    Gang life is a choice. You have the choice to avoid them or join them. For the most part they will leave you alone if you don't dress like them or hang around or be seen to talking to them. Sure you might get picked on from time to time, but the same thing can happen even if you're in a gang.

    Gang loyalty is a misnomer. A fellow gang member will kill you just as easy as he would kill a rival for a variety of reasons, There is no loyalty. Nothing is solved through discussion, but violence.

    As true to the gang as most claim to be, most would sell out their homies rather than go to jail themselves. In the end, its all about the individual. Which is where it all started. Making that choice.

    March 11, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
  14. Cristina

    I do not condone any gang affliation at all but unless you lived in a community where this is happening you just do not understand. These gangs get you at an early age and at time it is not a choice at all. I have a lot of family that lives in the Los Angeles area and i can tell you from family experiences that some turn out to be productive citizens in the community and others do not, in fact i have a couple of them that are very active in the gangs. Even the ones that live a non gang life follow the code of conduct of no "snithching". You don't do it because if you do you are asking for trouble. My family know both side of the spectrum, we've have family members killed in gang violence and wanted anwers too but we know the streets don't talk. I know sad but true.

    March 11, 2010 at 3:18 pm |
  15. Leslie

    As a former gang prosecutor and long-time gang suppression consultant, I need to point out that gang symbols and the gangster mentality have gone mainstream under just about everyone's noses. Fortune 500 companies (like Nike, New Era, etc.) make items targeted specifically toward gang members.

    Pro athletes openly throw gang hand signs on national television and many rap lyrics explicitly pay homage to gangs. Music videos are filled with gang related imagery that is apparently not recognized for what it is by the general public. The internet, particularly social networking sites, are a gangster paradise.

    Gangs and the images of the gangster lifestyle are pervasive and it accounts, at least in part, for the hold it has gained in middle-class communities. Additionally, non-minorities are joining gangs in record numbers. This is a social phenomenon as well as a criminal one.

    The denial that goes along with the explosion in gang activity simply exacerbates the problem. Until the general public begins to recognize this scourge for what it is, no gang suppression effort will be truly effective.

    March 11, 2010 at 3:18 pm |
  16. elena

    He had a choice to be in his gang or not. But everything we do in life is our choice. Unlike what people might think, there is a difference between being in a gang and trying to be something that your not...

    March 11, 2010 at 3:16 pm |
  17. Pragmatic Solutions

    If everyone "snitched"...or let's say, actually told the truth...who would be ostracized...it's a question of doing the easy thing vs. the right thing...

    March 11, 2010 at 3:15 pm |
  18. Ken

    Why should a gang memeber being killed by their own gang be news? That is the realty of joining a gang, you are as likely to be killed by rivals as your own. The lucky ones end up with a dead end life, floating in and out of jail and bringing children into the world with absolutely no intentions of being a real parent. Don't cry for the gang members, cry for their kids who are often relegated to the same life because of their parents poor choices.

    March 11, 2010 at 3:08 pm |
  19. n8r

    Personally, I am more afraid of what politicians are doing to our country than what gangs are doing to our country.

    March 11, 2010 at 2:55 pm |
  20. rafirojas

    the killing of ayala was a mistake they though that he spoke with the police when in fact he didn't i expect somebody will talk sooner or later.

    March 11, 2010 at 2:50 pm |
  21. Mike

    To say that all they see is gangs and that's the reason they are trapped is another excuse. These kids go to school. They know others who aren't in gangs and drugs. I live in a city where gangs and drugs are rampant. I see it right now looking out my window. I don't get involved. Its not hard to get a $7 an hour job flipping burgers to make enough to support a one bedroom apartment. Clean up your act and learn to fit into NORMAL society. To sit and come up with more excuses is the exact reason a solution will never be found as a whole, and its the same individual thought process that keeps each individual down. You go into any town, and you WILL see some hard working people who manage to stay out of the gangs and trouble.

    March 11, 2010 at 2:48 pm |
  22. East LA Resident

    I don't condone the violence but you guys don't understand the reasons that people don't snitch. If they snitch, they'll, at least, be ostracized in the community. They might face a lifetime of being taunted, picked on, harassed, burglarized, be shot at or have their houses shot at. All for speaking to law enforcement for what, a few moments? I commend CNN for bringing light to the problem but you guys don't live there and you are able to go home to a safer environment. Snitching can be as bad for a "hood" resident as false news reporting can be to a news reporter. Also, officers know all about the code as they usually don't snitch on fellow officers. Fat chance that their co-workers are going to associate with or promote an internal snitch.

    March 11, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
  23. Dr. Nicole

    Gangs and gang violence is about depravation of the soul. It's about not appreciating the value of a human life. Plain and simply, it's madness...

    March 11, 2010 at 11:05 am |
  24. Antagonist

    Gangs don't steal, they sell drugs. Its a simple case of nature vs nurture though, if gangs is all you've ever seen as in family members, school, friends. These kids are literally surrounded by gang members and sometimes they really don't have a choice of not joining a gang. The sad truth is that its not the 'stealing' that hurts their community but the drugs.

    March 11, 2010 at 10:21 am |
  25. Tim Gibson

    Those in gangs, in "gang neighborhoods" claim they have no other choice, but is it not about choice. Being the tuff guy, taking what you want illegally, without the work required, is in fact a choice.

    It does not matter where you grow up as a child. What matters is your own personal decision to rise above it all and choose the right path. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

    March 11, 2010 at 8:44 am |