By Jaime I. Conde, 16, South Gate HS
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Illustration by Franco Marino, 17, Hollywood HS

Last June, I went to the Central Library to look up some books. I felt fine walking through downtown with its quiet streets, fountains and calm environment. As I approached the library on Hope Street, a helicopter grazed over my head so close that I knew something was going on. Before I had a second to think, a guy in his early 20s came limping out of a parking lot holding a gun in his right hand. The way he was shaking the gun scared me to death. Wearing his baggy Levi’s and a sweaty white muscle shirt, he looked like a maniac. I looked around for a place to hide, but there were no trees or cars. There was no one to ask for help.

Strangely, even though I was right in front of him, it seemed like he didn’t see me. His eyes were rolling around in his head. He said in a soft voice, "I killed my wife." I was freaked out, but I also wondered if he was kidding around. From the parking lot, I heard voices. I couldn’t really tell if it was men shouting or just loud office workers leaving their jobs.

The man pointed the gun at the right side of his brain and blasted one time. He fell to the ground, blood gushing out of his nose like a river. When I saw that I felt weak and dizzy. I broke into a sweat. I felt guilty for not trying to stop the man, but what could I have done?

Two seconds later a sheriff arrived and asked me if I was OK. I said I was, even though I felt like I was going to pass out. I looked down at the bloodstains on my black shirt. Had I gotten shot? My skin felt cold and my heart felt like it was going to pop out. I pulled up my shirt—there were no bullet holes. It all felt like a dream.

Paramedics arrived and checked on the guy. There was nothing they could do, so they called over some other personnel from the coroner’s office. I watched as they stripped the man and put him inside a leather bag. After zipping the bag closed, they tossed the corpse into a white glossy van as if it was a piece of trash.

Seeing his fresh blood on the sidewalk, I felt sick all over again. Were the cops going to blame me? How could they? I was just on my way to the library. A paramedic gave me a towel to wipe the blood off my face, and I put on a spare T-shirt that I always carry in my backpack. I was worried that I might catch a disease from the man’s blood.

Meanwhile journalists were arriving from KCAL, KTLA and CBS. They started interviewing the sheriffs and practicing what they were going to say on the news.

I asked one of the reporters what happened. She told me the man was known as a psycho around his neighborhood in East L.A. She said he had suffocated his young wife the day before. The day of the incident, with his wife’s body in his car’s trunk, he apparently parked near the library. Empty tequila bottles were found in the car.

As she finished telling me, I saw another body being carried to another white glossy van and figured that it was probably his wife. I noticed people looking down from their offices at the scene. They looked at me like I had something to do with it. I decided it was time to leave.

As I left, a sheriff offered me a ride, but I told him I’d just take the bus. I didn’t want him to ask me more questions. I wanted some time alone.

I walked up the stairs to the library feeling like a survivor. I felt lucky that I hadn’t gotten shot. Even though I felt guilty for not stopping him, I figured since he had killed his wife, it was better for him to die.

Usually when I went to the library, I enjoyed doing research and using the computers. But that day I was too freaked out to look at any books. I walked up to the literature section and on a white sheet of paper I wrote, "It is a melancholy time indeed. For people the help they need, depression, tension and the content on this literature section. I give to others my mention, stop the hate, because this date will forever be in everyone’s fate." Writing that gave me some relief.

They acted like nothing had happened

As I walked back to the bus, I passed right by the spot where the suicide happened. Some sheriffs and L.A.P.D. officers were hanging out, chatting and joking like nothing had happened. "Get over it," I said to myself. "I have to get used to this, this is L.A."

The minute I walked in the door at home, my mom started crying. She had seen the news and thought I was dead. I hugged her. Tears came to my eyes, I was so glad to see her and to be safe at home. No matter how strong you are, you still need your mom. I didn’t listen to her when she was lecturing me that I should call her and should stay away from villains and shouldn’t be out too late.

Pretty soon my sister and brother came in. I told them what happened. I felt a lot better. Late into the night, after my dad got home, we talked about the incident, and how life is too short. Any day that special someone can leave somewhere and not come back.

That was one of the scariest things that ever happened to me, but somehow I made it through. We are surrounded by violence in our daily lives but I think we can overcome it. I try to deal with it by being aware of it, talking about it and writing about it. I try to stop fights when I see they’re about to start. And there are times when I try not to worry about it, because you can’t live in that fear all the time. You have to live life to the fullest, even though anything can happen.