A Child's Death in No-Man's Land

For a five-year old boy, there are few events in life that can bring such sublime flights of anticipation as Halloween. Yes, Christmas is up there, with the season’s lights and decorations and promise of long-wished-for presents. And birthdays, too, have their attractions. Along with the gifts comes the advantage of being an entire year older, and what five-year-old boy doesn’t dream of finally attaining the maturity and exalted status of a six-year-old.

Aaron Shannon Jr. won’t see his sixth birthday. On the afternoon of Halloween, as he counted down the minutes to nightfall and the adventure of trick-or-treating, he was shot and killed in his backyard. He was wearing his Spider-Man costume when he died.

Most parents fret over the hazards of Halloween: the strangers, the traffic, the effects of big sugar on little bellies. Few parents fret over the prospect of their child getting shot in the backyard. What kind of a place must it be where they do?

Such a place is the neighborhood around 84th Street and Central Avenue, in South Central Los Angeles, where Aaron lived and died.

A visitor to Los Angeles might arrive at LAX and drive east on Manchester Avenue for twenty minutes or so and then turn north on Central Avenue, where, miles in the distance straight ahead, he would see the gleaming steel and glass towers of downtown.  On clear afternoons, as it was on Halloween, the setting sun reflects off those buildings to create a brilliant tableau, but the visitor would note that the scenery on either side of Central is far less spectacular: drab storefronts, modest apartment buildings, and a few neighborhood churches. The visitor wouldn’t detect any significant differences between the east side of the street and the west side.

But there is a huge difference, one that is well known to all who live and work in the area. Aaron lived on the west side of Central, in a neighborhood claimed by a particular street gang. Another street gang claims the territory to the east of Central, and when members of each gang cross that great divide into the other’s turf, they almost always do so in search of trouble.

Police claim that on the afternoon of Oct. 31, two members of the gang from the east side of Central Avenue crossed that invisible boundary hoping to settle the score for an earlier shooting. They walked down the alley behind Aaron’s house looking for targets and, on seeing people in a backyard, one of them raised a pistol and opened fire. Aaron’s grandfather and uncle were struck in an arm and a leg, respectively, and survived. Aaron, little Spider-Man, was shot in the head and never had a chance. Police say no one in the family belonged to a gang.