Residents displaced by LAPD fireworks explosion demand names of officers, repair of homes

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LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 16: Community members hold a news conference in front of their homes to protest the city's handling of the June 30 LAPD fireworks explosion that damaged local homes on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA.(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
Residents hold a news conference in front of their homes damaged during LAPD's handling of the June 30 fireworks explosion. (Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

Following the release of a federal report about a massive fireworks explosion that destroyed part of a South L.A. neighborhood, residents Thursday demanded mental health services and the names of Los Angeles police officers involved.

More than a dozen people gathered on East 27th street, holding signs that read “lies,” “not repaired” and “justice for our community."

In June, the LAPD damaged the block while trying to safely detonate a cache of illegal fireworks.

Carmen Romero said her 11-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter require mental health services. The blast shook their home and shattered their windows.

"It’s been 77 days since the explosion and they haven’t received the support that they need,” said Romero, whose daughter held a sign that read "Destroyed by LAPD." “We didn’t ask for this situation; it was caused by the negligence of the police.”

A report released this week by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives found that LAPD officers badly miscalculated the amount of fireworks they placed into a containment vessel before detonating them.

Candido Juarez and his wife stand in front of their homes that is uninhabitable after massive fireworks explosion June 30.
Candido Juarez and his wife stand in front of their homes that is uninhabitable after massive fireworks explosion June 30. (Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

LAPD Chief Michel Moore, who spoke at a closed-door meeting with residents Monday, said the fireworks placed in the vessel were not weighed with a scale but eyeballed by the technicians working the scene.

He said several members of the bomb squad have been removed from the team and will not be returning to it.

The June 30 explosion in the 700 block of East 27th Street, just days before the Fourth of July holiday, injured 17 people — 10 LAPD officers, one ATF agent and six civilians — and damaged or destroyed 13 businesses, 22 residential properties and 37 vehicles, police have said.

The explosion displaced dozens of people, forcing them to move into hotel rooms paid for by the city as officials worked to clean up the mess. Many residents remain displaced, with some homes on the block deemed uninhabitable. Others have continued living in damaged homes.

Two elderly residents who were among the displaced have since died. Officials have attributed their deaths to illness and natural causes, though family members and activists have said the explosion caused significant stress and was clearly a contributing factor.

Yellow-tagged home in South L.A. following June 30 fireworks explosion by LAPD.
Yellow-tagged home in South L.A. following June 30 fireworks explosion by LAPD. (Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

Arturo Ceja III, a 26-year-old resident of the block, pleaded guilty in federal court last month to unlicensed transport of explosives from Nevada to California. Federal authorities said Ceja had been storing about 16 tons of fireworks in the backyard of his family’s house, which the LAPD discovered after receiving a tip.

On Thursday evening, windows and doors of some homes along the street remained boarded up. Hanging on fences outside were signs in English and Spanish that read, "We demand accountability" and "Justice for 27th street".

"Look at these windows and look at these houses. They are still destroyed," said Ron Gochez, a community organizer with Unión del Barrio who has helped residents. "If this was a rich community on the Westside, this would not be the case."

Some of the families had taken a bus from their hotel downtown Thursday evening because their cars were damaged during the explosion, Gochez said.

Homes remain boarded up and residents displaced following LAPD's handling of the June 30 fireworks explosion.
Homes remain boarded up and residents displaced following LAPD's handling of the June 30 fireworks explosion. (Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

"Do you want to come home," he asked the crowd of residents behind him.

"Yes," they said.

"They want to be in their neighborhood," Gochez said.

Residents also demanded the names of the officers involved in the errors that led to the blast.

At the Monday meeting, Moore declined to provide the names, saying the blame rested with him. He added that an investigation into the actions of individual officers was still underway.

“I think it’s very hypocritical of the cops and everyone else to block out their names when they didn’t block out the name of the person who had the fireworks," said Maria Velasquez, who is still living in a hotel. "We need the names."

Times staff writer Kevin Rector contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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