Officer killed in area known for trouble

SACRAMENTO -- The sound of gunfire doesn't bother Christine Vue anymore. Shots crackle at night outside the eighth- grader's home about once a week, but she simply pulls the covers tighter and goes back to sleep.

When authorities locked down Fern Bacon Middle School on Wednesday as they searched for the killer of a Sacramento County sheriff's detective, Vue said classmates told jokes and sneaked out iPods.

"Yeah, it was scary," Vue said Thursday, walking home after school with a friend. "But we mostly wanted to know what was going on."

Crime has become common in this gritty swath of south Sacramento, where nearly a third of residents live in poverty, crack deals go down openly and illegally dumped appliances rust in the streets.

Violence erupted into public view Wednesday when a teen-ager shot and killed Sgt. Vu Nguyen, after a chase through the neighborhood's back yards. Residents were locked out of their homes for hours while Special Weapons and Tactics teams in riot gear hunted the shooter, helicopters roaring overhead.

As news of the tragedy settled over the neighborhood Thursday, some residents clamored for greater police protection and programs for youngsters.

"Get these kids something to do!" exclaimed Penny Ferguson, a longtime neighborhood resident who lives on 45th Street. "We need to show them how to get a job, keep a paycheck, open a bank account. They need to be proud of themselves, or else they'll get in trouble."

Known by locals as "The Grains," the neighborhood stands in the shadow of the Campbell Soup plant on Franklin Boulevard and stretches west past Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. It's a diverse neighborhood, but also one of the most dangerous in Sacramento.

This year deputies have recorded three homicides, 22 aggravated assaults, 27 drug crimes, 26 robberies, five weapons arrests and a rape in a district that covers a roughly 1,500-foot radius around the spot where Nguyen died.

Sexta Homdus, who lives on 45th Street, said trouble in the neighborhood isn't caused by bad kids, just kids with no direction. With Florin Mall closed, teens don't have anywhere to hang out. The small neighborhood park is dominated by the homeless.

Homdus said her house has been shot up several times by thugs mistaking it for a gang house. Yet when she decided to repaint her fence this summer, a crowd of youngsters helped.

"It told me that most of the kids here aren't looking for trouble, they're looking for something to do," Homdus said.

She said a big problem with the neighborhood is garbage. Nearly every street is lined with abandoned computers and televisions, their insides gutted for scrap metal.

"If a neighborhood looks like trash, they're going to treat it like trash," she said.