Deaf Woman Slain; Hand Signs May Have Resembled Gang Code
LOS ANGELES - A conversation in sign language could have been mistaken for a rival gang's code, in a drive-by shooting that killed a deaf woman and wounded her companion, police said yesterday.
"It's not uncommon as a prelude for shooting for gang members to exchange hand signs, indicating what gang they're in," Detective Dan Andrews said.
"These folks were not gang members, but they were making letters or gestures with their hands."
Juliet Qualls, 19, of Los Angeles, was killed in a hail of gunfire Tuesday as she and a friend were getting out of a car about five miles west of downtown, police said.
Her 20-year-old companion, whose name was withheld, was in stable condition yesterday after undergoing surgery for a bullet wound to the face, Andrews said.
"There was nothing in their dress or demeanor that "would indicate they were in a gang," he said.
Gang members sometimes attack bystanders wearing colors favored by rivals. Andrews said each gang has a distinctive hand sign, often a street number or the first letter of the gang's name. "Gang members will confront each other and, even without words, they'll identify themselves, by flashing their sign," he said.
Just before the shooting, the victims had engaged in a sign-language conversation. "I think anybody with some sophistication would recognize sign language, but the gang members may not be that astute," the detective said.
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