Over a 20-year period, they saw their neighborhood deteriorate from a colorful pastiche of hard-working immigrants to an earthly hell of gang violence and terror. But when it came to putting up or moving out, one plucky group of senior citizens in the Fairfield section of Los Angeles decided age wouldn't stand in the way of protecting their community.
The enterprising seniors formed a community watchdog group called "Seniors Against Gangs," and boldly took their message to the street. Taking a brisk three-block walk from the senior center to a known gang hangout, a vacant lot near an abandoned Asian grocery, the seniors faced the gangs head on.
"Stop terrorizing our neighborhoods!" Stan Grewsilski, 88, demanded. Grewsilski, who served in our nation's armed forces during World War II, was swiftly seized by four gang members and stabbed 12 times in the kidney with a rusty screwdriver.
But the surviving seniors were undaunted. Though one, Rose Freuknes, fell faint, the others turned and fled while continuing to reprimand the gang members.
"Aaah! No!" Gladys Rankin shouted as she was tripped and quickly surrounded by a dozen young gang bangers. "Stop! Please!" Harv Brenuisi pleaded. Both were anally raped amid gang taunts, then pulverized with machine-gun fire. The last senior to die, Thelma Frekjs, was chained to a stolen Buick and dragged through the city.
Fairfield's remaining 113 seniors mobilized in a manner reminiscent of the old days.
At 8 p.m., as the Fairfield Senior Center's annual rendition of Showboat let out onto Jackson Street, Mickey O'Donoghue saw Marco's Corner Market being held up. This, in combination with the recent "Seniors Against Gangs," inspired him to take action. Along with the rest of the emerging crowd, O'Donoghue, who was wheelchair-bound and only maintained use of his left arm above the wrist, raced across the street to confront the hoods.
The seniors decided to make a stand, emboldened by the fact that they outnumbered the gang members 113 to five. And for a while, it looked like they might just win.
Television cameras captured such moving images as two seniors, Myrtle Laine and Bea Rifkin, holding down one punk and hitting him with oversized handbags. The Senior Center next to the convenience store was abuzz with energy for the first time in years, even if only for the 28-minute duration of the battle.
The tide inevitably turned, as other gangs came upon the scene and joined the fracas. Instead of trying to smite their rival gang members, they joined forces with them, creating an all-out Battle of the AgesTM.
Even with their organizational prowess and sense of purpose, the seniors were no match for the strength and numbers of the nine gangs that assembled in Fairfield. In fact, the seniors' uprising led the gangs to work together for a common cause for the first time in years. According to one gang member, seeing who could take out the most elderly became a friendly competition between rivals.
"I realized that I have more in common with the 99th Street Killaz than I previously thought," said Luis Guerrero, a member of the rival Huevos Rancheros gang. "I mean, after all, aren't we all brothers?"
Meanwhile, family members of the slain mourned their collective loss.
"My father, God rest his soul, came to this country alone, moved to Fairfield, and worked 63 years in a shoe factory," said Ronald Michaels, son of Hans Mikelveck, 91. "Fortunately, I moved away from Fairfield after college, and, you know, with the way rent is these days, there just wasn't room for him in my house."