Hollywood rampage left its mark on photographer

Los Angeles Times - July 8, 2012

Gregory Bojorquez documents Latino gangs in East L.A., but on a Friday in December, deadly violence caught up with him at Sunset and Vine.

By Kurt Streeter, Los Angeles Times

July 8, 2012

Sunset and Vine.
Cars peeled out of the intersection, some in reverse. Tires shrieked. Gregory Bojorquez smelled the hot, smoking rubber. A man yelled: “Someone is shooting! Someone is shooting!”
This isn’t East L.A., Bojorquez thought. This is Hollywood. People don’t go on shooting rampages around here. Maybe it’s make-believe. Maybe someone is shooting blanks. But he heard windows shatter, and then he saw the guy, Tyler Brehm, 26, a dreamer from a small town in Pennsylvania, who had moved here in search of his fortune. “He had what looked like a .45,” Bojorquez says. “He was shooting bullets.”
Bojorquez, 39, is an arts photographer. He pays his bills by making pictures of movie stars and music celebrities. His real passion, though, is documenting Latino gangs and the rough-and-tumble life of East L.A., where he grew up. His camera bag, as usual, was slung over his shoulder. Inside was a Nikon camera so old it still used film. Brehm aimed his pistol wildly, pointing it in Bojorquez’s direction and at everything else. Only 120 feet of pavement and a newspaper rack separated the two. Bojorquez began pulling his camera out.
A patrol car squealed to a stop. Two officers got out.
“That’s the guy! That’s the guy!” Bojorquez shouted. “You gotta do something.”
Brehm was wearing a tank top and sunglasses. “He didn’t even seem bothered,” Bojorquez says.
Now the Nikon was in Bojorquez’s hands. He focused it.
Through the viewfinder, he saw that Brehm had tucked his gun inside what looked like a holster, and he had taken out a knife. “He was saying, ‘I want to die, I want to die, I want to die,'” Bojorquez says. “All of a sudden, the guy makes a sudden move. This is happening right in front of me, now only 15 feet away. I’m worried about
getting caught in a crossfire.”
The two officers closed in on Brehm. More police were gathering a block away. All at once, Bojorquez heard four gun blasts — their echoes ricocheting across Sunset and Vine.
Bojorquez fired the Nikon.
His photos show the rest: Brehm stumbling to the ground, clutching his chest and taking his final breath
surrounded by cops.
It was only then that Bojorquez noticed a silver Mercedes riddled with bullets. There was a man inside — John Atterberry, 40, a Hollywood music and movie producer. “I saw his face,” Bojorquez says. “I saw blood; he was in his own world by then. I ended up seeing him walking, holding onto someone. He kind of got on the stretcher himself, so I thought he was going to be all right.”
Atterberry died three days later at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Bojorquez rubs a hand across his shaved head in dismay. “That’s when it really hit home. Ugliness.”
Not that Bojorquez is shy of profiting from what he witnessed. He sold his photos to The Times, and the Associated Press. Until July 14, you can see them and buy copies at the Hardhitta Gallery on Wilshire Boulevard, across from the L.A. County Museum of Art. The gallery calls his show “.45 Point Blank.”
“Yes, I’m conflicted,” Bojorquez says. “I’m proud of what I did, documenting something that probably won’t ever be seen again on Sunset and Vine. At the same time, it’s awful: an innocent man losing his life like that. I’m not used to seeing stuff like this.”
What he saw that Friday morning, Dec. 9, 2011, sticks with him still. For many, especially those who weren’t there, the gunfire and panic will fade into just another senseless killing by someone whose demons nobody fully understands and never will. That’s what we do in Los Angeles — we shove many of history’s hard moments aside and don’t think about them again.
But not Gregory Bojorquez. He suffers flashbacks and nightmares about blood and death. He thinks he always will.
“It’s lodged in my memory,” he says.
And in his photographs.
He cannot put the randomness behind him — the realization that John Atterberry could have been any of us if we had been in that iconic intersection. Sunset and Vine.

Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times