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Willowbrook reels as shootings kill three in less than 24 hours

The LA Times logo The LA Times 10/18/2020 Louis Sahagún

The community of Willowbrook on Saturday was grappling with the aftermath of back-to-back deadly shootings: one involving the deputy shooting of a Black man on Friday afternoon, and the other involving two teenage boys found shot to death after a car crash the night before.

As Los Angeles County sheriff’s detectives investigated the shootings, tensions ran high among many area residents who struggled to cope with the anxiety over the burst of violent crime in their neighborhood southeast of downtown.

Throughout the day Saturday, dozens of people gathered at a curbside memorial of candles and rap music across the street from usually placid Mona Park and a neighborhood fence where Fred Williams III, 25, was allegedly shot and killed by a sheriff's deputy after a brief chase.

Among them was Sandy Hendrix, 57, a neighbor who had known Williams since he was a young boy.

Nodding toward the park playground and trying not to cry, she recalled, “I used to push him on the swing right over there. He loved that, and so did I. I never dreamed that he would one day be fatally shot by police less than a block away from that swing set.”

Another was Lisa Smith, 52, a witness who referred to Williams as “my baby.”

“A lot of us were just chilling in the park parking lot when deputies rolled up in a squad car,” she said. Assuming their arrival spelled trouble for the group, she said, “we started running."

“A policeman started running on foot after Fred and, seconds later, Fred disappeared around a corner,” she recalled. “Then I heard four shots. Pop, pop, pop, pop.”

Sheriff’s officials say deputies were conducting a routine patrol check of Mona Park when they noticed a group of 10 to 15 people, one of whom “was holding a firearm in his hand.”

“When the suspect saw the deputies,” a spokesman for the department said, “he immediately ran out of the parking lot headed south.”

“One of the deputies chased the suspect down a driveway and into the backyard of an uninvolved residence,” he said. “The suspect then engaged the deputy by pointing his firearm at him at which point the deputy involved shooting occurred.”

Williams died at the scene, authorities said. A semi-automatic handgun was later recovered at the scene by homicide investigators.

At a nearby house where Williams had been living, his father, Fred Williams Jr., 44, anguished over an unanswered question: Why wouldn’t detectives explain to him the circumstances that led to the fatal shooting of his son?

“All they will tell me is that my son was shot once in the shoulder,” he said, his eyes filled with tears. “Was he shot in the front or the back? I do not know. They won’t tell me.”

His son had been released from prison a month ago after serving time for a robbery conviction, relatives said. He was looking forward to starting a new job as a security guard on Tuesday.

Williams’ father is not satisfied with the sheriff’s explanation.

“I’ve been put in and out of the back seat of police vehicles since I was 12 years old,” he said. “What else do you need to know?”

“We’re getting killed by police,” he added. “The big question is this: When will it stop?”

The trouble in Willowbrook started at about 11 p.m. Thursday in the 12200 block of Maple Avenue, when the two male teens were shot and killed while driving down a street in search of an address, according to the sheriff's department.

The victims were among five teens in the car when an assailant approached them and opened fire, authorities said.

The car slammed into a vehicle parked at the intersection of Maple Avenue and East 124th Street. Deputies who responded found two teens in the front seats dead at the scene. Three teens in the back were unharmed, authorities said.

“The car appears to have been shot several times,” said Sheriff’s Lt. Brandon Dean, and “both decedents appear to have been shot several times in the upper torso.”

The victims were identified by family members as Millyon Colquitt, 16, and Jamele Hill, 17. Colquitt was an 11th-grader at Centennial High School, and Hill was a senior at Gardena High School.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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