SHOOTING SHOCKS GLENDALE; STUDENT'S DEATH MOVES LOCAL ARMENIAN COMMUNITY TO TAKE ACTION.
After attending a community meeting about violence among Armenian youth, county jails Chaplain Bedros Hajian decided to stop by the makeshift shrine set up by Hoover High School students in memory of a friend shot to death last week.
``I want you to remember to love each other,'' Hajian said to the 20 teens standing arm in arm around flowers and candles arranged in the shape of a cross.
Hajian was just one of several community leaders who visited the memorial Thursday night. Hajian said the shooting death of 15-year-old Avetis ``Avo'' Demirchyan just a few feet off the Hoover campus has forced the local Armenian community into action.
``For us, this is the time to wake up and understand we do have a problem,'' Hajian said. ``We knew we had a problem, but we didn't understand how far it had gone.''
Glendale, long a fixture on the list of the nation's safest cities, was rocked last week by news that a Hoover High School student had been shot to death during an after-school fight on School Street, just steps from a brick wall that lines the campus. It was the district's first violent campus death. Just two months ago, neighboring Burbank experienced its first on-campus death when a 17-year-old summer school student was stabbed to death at Burbank High.
``Maybe in a sense there's a loss of innocence here,'' said Kevin Welsh, co-principal at Hoover. ``We've had incidents before, but now someone has died. It's the first time it's happened so close.''
On Monday, a letter from Superintendent Jim Brown was sent home with students to assure their parents that despite the shooting, Hoover is still a safe place to send their children.
Welsh, Brown, Parent-Teacher Association President Rita Rubelcava, school police Officer Marilyn Cisneros, Glendale police investigators and even friends of Demirchyan have all used the term ``isolated incident'' to describe the killing. Police and Demirchyan's friends insisted the fight was not gang-related.
But Demirchyan's death has shaken the city's Armenian community, the largest in the country with at least 60,000 Armenian immigrants.
``Clearly something is amiss when kids are pulling guns on other kids. What's sad to me is the kids are walking around armed to the teeth with weapons,'' said Vicken Papazian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee's Western Regional Office. ``It can very easily turn into something that is far more common. The Armenian community and the school administrators need to take this very seriously and not act like it's an isolated incident.''
About 60 Armenian community leaders from Scouting groups, social service agencies, churches and business groups came together for the meeting at Glendale Unified School District headquarters Thursday.
``This is the time it hit home. This is a grave problem facing all of us who are living and working in Glendale,'' said Berdj Karapetian, president of the Glendale Chamber of Commerce. ``It sounds the alarm to all of us that it can and probably will happen again unless we increase our efforts manyfold. I'm not optimistic that this is the last incident. The first step is to recognize what we have now is not enough.''
The group will meet again Monday and on a regular basis in the future to come up with concrete ways to keep young people from turning to violent lifestyles, Karapetian said.
One idea is to start a big brothers and big sisters program.
``We can get some older people who are active in the community but who are removed from some of these conflicts,'' Karapetian said. ``It's something that's easy to implement. We can do it now.''
The participants also talked about after-school activities for children and support for parents. Already, there are organizations and churches that offer such programs, but many are filled.
``I didn't realize how full, how strained these organizations are to the ultimate,'' said Alice Petrossian, a top administrator in the Glendale Unified School District. ``There's still a need.''
Petrossian noted that the overwhelming majority of Armenian youths never get in any trouble but acknowledged there has been some reluctance to deal with those with problems.
``That's what the Armenian community has had trouble facing,'' Petrossian said.
To Petrossian, the meeting was special because people put aside political and ideological differences to deal with the issue.
``They were very united in their commitment. That generally doesn't happen in this community,'' Petrossian said.
Chahe Keuroghelian, a spokesman for the Glendale Police Department and a liaison to the local Armenian community, acknowledged that the potential for deadly violence on campus has increased in recent years. In May 1995, Hoover weathered a similar tragedy when 17-year-old senior Tony Petrossian was stabbed to death in Brand Park after a fight over a $50 amplifier.
``This (killing) does surprise and shock us. But to anyone who has been tracking the violence and types of crimes committed by juveniles, then it's unfortunately not too surprising,'' Keuroghelian said.
Violence involving Armenian youths, whether gang related or not, has escalated dramatically within the past several years, he said.
At the memorial for Demirchyan, his 14-year-old cousin, Arsen Kurginyan, a student at neighboring Toll Middle School, said he would feel more comfortable with a larger police presence.
``We should have more police around the school at night and after school,'' Kurginyan said.
Cisneros, the police officer assigned to Hoover, acknowledged she could use the help. ``I'm one officer against 3,200 students. I'm outnumbered here,'' she said.
Cisneros also would like to see more random metal-detector checks for weapons.
Lt. Mike Rock, Cisneros' boss at the Glendale Police Department, said that since the killing there have been extra patrols around Hoover. Rock said he would continue to push for a second officer, a request denied previously because of the department's limited resources, he said.
Rock called the homicide an ``aberration.''
``I don't think it's a trend-setter. This is not a gang-related incident. The gang activity in Glendale is consistent with previous years. We're not seeing a spike in the statistics,'' Rock said.
PHOTO (1) A shrine set up by Hoover High students honors the memory of shooting victim Avetis ``Avo'' Demirchyan.
(2 -- Bulldog edition only) The shrine was built in tribute to the 15-year-old, whose killing has been called an isolated incident.
(3) Friends gather at the shrine for student Avetis ``Avo'' Demirchyan.
Hans Gutknecht/Daily News