Many were surprised to learn that the three suspects arrested in connection with the killing of LAPD Officer Juan Diaz last Saturday were from Temecula. The Riverside County suburb is more than 70 miles away from Lincoln Heights, where the off-duty officer was gunned down near a taco stand.
The suspects may have lived in the suburbs, but they were on familiar turf when they came into the city for a crime spree that included Diaz' killing, police said. It's an increasingly common occurrence, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said during a news conference earlier this week.
Without offering any statistics, Moore said his staff has noticed other cases where former Eastside and Central L.A. residents with gang connections return to the old neighborhoods, sometime to cause trouble. Moore said these former residents often have been involved in multi-generational gangs or a "gang lifestyle" in Eastside and Central L.A. neighborhoods.
"We have individuals from these other regions now returning to these older neighborhoods," said Moore, "to at times create havoc and prey upon those neighborhoods and celebrate if you will their lineage."
Police sources have told the L.A. Times that the Riverside County suspects are members of the Avenues gang, which has long claimed Cypress Park, Glassell Park, Highland Park and other Northeast L.A. neighborhoods as part of their domain.
The suspects in the Diaz killing -- Cristian Facundo, 20, Francisco Talamantes III, 23, and Ashlynn Smith, 18 -- allegedly tagged gang monikers on the side of a business in the 4200 block of Eagle Rock Boulevard in Glassell Park on the same night of the murder. Later, one of the suspects was tagging a sidewalk on "Taco Alley" -- a popular row of stands on Artesian Street in Lincoln Heights -- when confronted by Diaz, who was with friends after patronizing one of the vendors.
"They have some ties back to the neighborhood," Moore said of the suspects. "This is an area known to them."
It's far from the first time former residents have been said to have traveled back to their old stomping grounds to commit crimes.
In a 2006 L.A. Weekly story on gentrification, police blamed some crime in Echo Park on "commuter taggers" who had left or been gentrified out of a neighborhood they once called home.
“You wonder why they keep coming back,” LAPD Officer Sam Salazar told The Weekly. “They don’t live there no more, but they think, ‘Hey, that’s our old hood.’ That’s the only thing I can think of.”