'Beautiful young ladies' among 4 gunned down in ambush at Inglewood birthday party

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Inglewood, California January 24, 2022: Marlon Hamilton father of victim Marneysha, lights a candle in her honor after four people were gunned down a birthday party in Inglewood.(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)
Marlon Hamilton, father of victim Marneysha, lights a candle in her honor after four people were gunned down a birthday party in Inglewood. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Bullet holes and balloons are nearly all that remain of the horrors that unfolded on Park Avenue in Inglewood early Sunday, when a birthday party became the scene of the city's worst act of violence in decades.

Four people were killed and one was wounded when gunmen fired into the celebration shortly after 1:30 a.m. in what police say was an act of gang-related violence.

The slain victims were identified Monday as Teron Whittiker Jr. and Jayden Griffin, both 21, as well as sisters Marneysha Hamilton, 25, and Breahna Stines, according to the Los Angeles County coroner's office.

It was Stines' 20th birthday.

"All she wanted to do was celebrate her birthday, and her sister came to be with her," a friend, Tesha, told reporters. "Just beautiful ladies. Beautiful young ladies."

Stines, Hamilton and Whittiker were pronounced dead at the scene, authorities said. Griffin died on the way to UCLA Ronald Reagan Hospital.

The fifth victim, not yet identified, remains in critical condition, said Lt. Brett Birkbeck of the Inglewood Police Department.

The shooters were still at large Monday, and no descriptions of the suspects were available, Birkbeck said.

Much of what transpired inside the blue house on Park Avenue remains unclear. Authorities said none of the victims lived in the house, which they believe was being used as an unregulated short-term rental.

Witnesses said Swedish tourists were renting the house at the time of the shooting. The homeowners did not offer comment to The Times.

One 18-year-old neighbor who gave his name only as Matthew said he was in his room when the shooting began in the driveway of the house next door. He threw himself onto the floor and yelled for his sleeping mother, Anna, and 16-year-old sister to do the same.

"There's a shooting," he recalled saying. "Get on the floor and stay there until it's over."

Matthew said it seemed as though there was more than one shooter — perhaps as many as four — based on the sounds of the weapons being fired. Bullet casings littered the driveway, sidewalk and street, he said.

Sources familiar with the investigation said more than 40 rounds were fired during the attack. Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr. said evidence indicates that an assault rifle and at least one handgun were used in the ambush.

Yellow pylons are used as evidence markers near a home
Evidence markers dot the ground at a neighbor's house Monday in Inglewood. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

The surviving victim indicated that he is "gang-affiliated," Butts said, and he has an extensive criminal history.

"This information along with the targeted nature of this crime, the weapons used and statements uttered before the shooting by the suspects indicated this crime was indeed gang-related," the mayor said.

The house sits in territory claimed by a rival gang. According to one law enforcement source, the partygoers included members and associates of a Compton gang known as Mob Piru.

The source said there was an argument at the party that many feared would escalate into violence. After the argument, at least one partygoer left the house and returned with three other shooters, the source said.

Detectives also are investigating whether the incident is connected to a series of shootings in Compton and Inglewood in recent months, including the slaying of Compton rapper Slim 400 in December, the source said.

Neighbors described the little block as a quiet place that is home to many retirees.

"This has never happened here," said Maria Jimenez, 78. "I've been living here since 1976."

Jimenez and her son, 53-year-old Andrew Jimenez, said they heard several gunshots around 1:30 a.m. followed by the sound of a car speeding away.

Two people hug on a sidewalk lined with balloons and lighted candles at night
Marlon Hamilton, father of shooting victim Marneysha, gets a hug at a memorial. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Delories Minor, who lives across the street from where the shooting occurred, said she hadn't experienced anything like that level of violence in her 50 years in the neighborhood.

Most residents keep to themselves, "but if a neighbor needs something, we’re there. We kind of watch out for each other," she said.

The house has been used as a short-term rental for the last two years or so, Minor said. Different faces have cycled in and out, and occasionally tenants throw parties with loud music, "but never like this," she said.

“We weren’t really happy about it — I’m not happy about it being an Airbnb — but people have the right to do what they want to do with their house,” Minor said.

The Times was unable to immediately reach a spokesperson with Airbnb.

On Monday morning, medical gloves lay scattered where one of the victims laid — a sharp contrast to scenes from the party shared on Instagram before the violence began, which showed the house adorned with pink balloons, cupcakes and a birthday banner.

Candles and framed photos of the shooting victims
Candles surround framed photographs of some of the shooting victims. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

After the shooting, friends and family members created a makeshift memorial at the end of the street. Hundreds of candles lined the sidewalk, while "Happy Birthday" balloons fluttered from a nearby street sign.

“They both were outgoing, beautiful girls," the sisters' mother, Tiffney, told The Times.

The mayor on Sunday vowed to seek justice.

"These are sociopathic killers that have to be sequestered from society," he said. "Turn yourselves in. We will find you and we will prosecute you."

Inglewood is set to host the NFC championship game next week and the Super Bowl on Feb. 13 at SoFi Stadium, less than two miles from the scene of the shooting.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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