LOS ANGELES (AP) — Authorities announced a $100,000 reward Wednesday for the capture of eight arsonists who hurled Molotov cocktails at apartments in a Los Angeles public housing complex.
The predawn attack on May 12 caused minor to moderate damage to the homes of four families at Ramona Gardens. Nobody was hurt.
The Eastside complex is overwhelmingly Latino and has had a history of racial tensions and violence. Three of the victim families are black, and investigators are trying to determine whether the attacks were racially motivated and whether gangs were involved.
"There should be zero tolerance for individuals or groups who prey upon the innocent, whether it's motivated by racial, religious bias or any other malicious motive," said Timothy J. Delaney, special agent in charge of the FBI's Criminal Division in Los Angeles.
At a news conference, authorities screened a short surveillance video that showed eight people crossing a nearby freeway bridge. Shadowy figures can be seen lighting firebombs then hurling them at residences before sprinting away.
Remnants of the four Molotov cocktails were gathered as evidence.
Los Angeles police Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese said there have been dedicated patrols for the housing complex since the attack.
"We are shoulder to shoulder with the people who live there, and we're going to make sure they stay safe during the course of the investigation," Albanese said.
Residents have held barbecues and other events to show they're united and won't tolerate such crimes, said Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents the area.
"We didn't expect this; we thought this would never happen again. It was a big shock," said Olga Perez, a grass-roots leader of the community outreach organization LA Voice. She's lived in the housing project for 45 years.
Perez said the incident — and reports that it may have been racially motivated — seemed to retarnish the area's image and recent gains made in decreasing violence and ensuring youths pursue education over crime.
In the last few years, she said black families have returned to the predominantly Latino housing project after two decades away because of conflict between black and Latino families.
Perez said the conflict was limited to a few families and, especially today, is not pervasive. Perez said young people of different races often comingle, and she grew up with a best friend there who is black.
But the allegations that the attacks were racially motivated have cast a pall on the progress.
"If there was a conflict between these ... families and another few families that are Mexican, now it's something bigger," Perez said.
The attacks remained under investigation by a task force including the FBI; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and Los Angeles police and fire investigators. They said they hoped the public would come forward with tips.
"If history's a guide, the way a lot of these crimes are solved is one brave individual or individuals will stand up and do the right thing and will call," said Carlos Canino, special agent in charge of the ATF in Los Angeles. "And we urge them to call."
Tami Abdollah can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/latams
FBI information and video: http://1.usa.gov/1nQgaHH
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