When rumors spread Sunday night that Eric Zamarripa had been gunned down at his Echo Park home, there was shock, anguish as well as relief. This was, after all, a man considered by many to be one of the leaders of the Echo Park gang who had terrorized the neighborhood for years and threw rowdy parties at his home on Baxter Street. But this being Echo Park, where ExP gang members and hangers-on are also neighbors who attend PTA meetings and exchange polite greetings as you pump gas, many of the same residents who feared and loathed 38-year-old Zamarripa also knew another side of him. The other Zamarripa was a hard-working carpet installer and devoted father and husband who restored old cars and hosted hours-long Fourth of July fireworks displays that rivaled those at Dodger Stadium.
“He was part of what I called the ‘carpet mafia,'” said one Echo Park resident who knew Zamarripa since he was a young man. “I’m sure he was no angel. But at the same time he was a family man and took care of a whole group of people.”
Other Echo Park neighbors and police officers have less kind words for Zamarripa, whose home on Monday morning was hidden behind giant SUVs, trailers and a punching bag in the front yard. Retired LAPD officer Joe Writer considered Zamarripa one of his major problems when he was Echo Park’s senior lead officer from the 1986 to 1999.
“He was smart and he was conniving and he was sinister,” said Writer. “Eric was instrumental in knowing the happenings and the goings of the Echo Park gang. Eric, in my mind, was a major role player.”
But even Writer acknowledged that Zamarripa had another side and had the respect of many neighbors.
“I would encounter Eric at community meetings as he assimilated into the community as a father,” said Writer. “We were respectful of each others’ position. If I needed word to get out to the gang that things needed to cool down, could I go talk to Eric? Yes, I could and I did. At least he would listen to me.”
The man who had “Echo Park” tattooed across his stomach would also wave and greet neighbors as they passed by his home and took the car keys away from a house guest who had too much drink. He restored and drove his grandfather’s Model A down Sunset Boulevard during the Echo Park holiday parade – but not last December because he was in prison. Zamarripa was still with the same woman who he was sweet on 25 years ago when their names were written into a freshly poured section of sidewalk. The names are still there in front of Elysian Park Elementary School down the street from their home:
“He was one of these people who was trying to have it both ways,” said one resident, who recalls when Zamarripa said he wished kids would to stop tagging during a neighborhood clean up. “Frankly he just made my skin crawl.”
Will the leafy intersection of Echo Park Avenue and Baxter Street, now home to a designer coffee house and a gateway to the hills of Elysian Heights, grow more quiet without Zamarripa around? One nearby resident said the neighborhood had been noticeably quiet and more livable when he was in jail last year. Long, term, she worries.
“I’m holding my breath. Part of me wants to think that things are going to calm down without this target close by. That we can relax a bit. But another part of me says that Eric was only part of the problem.”
* Update @ 11:14 am: The Sunday afternoon shooting of three men, including Zamarripa, was “motivated by some sort of gang feud” and not a random act of violence, LAPD spokeswoman Ana Aguirre said this morning. The suspect arrested in the shooting spree, Andrew Upshaw, is expected to be arraigned Wednesday.
Police officials will discuss the shootings Thursday night at a meeting of the Echo Park Improvement Assn.
Bottom photo from Echo Park Flickr Group