A 44-year-old woman fatally shot by a gunman who opened fire in front of her 12-year-old son apparently was unknown to the shooter, only having laughed at him when driving by just prior to her death, authorities said Thursday.
The woman had stopped beside a police officer to say she thought she was being followed when the gunman got out of a Cadillac and fired into her Mercedes-Benz, striking her and her son, in Hawthorne Wednesday afternoon. The officer returned fire, killing the shooter.
The victim, a Metro bus driver, was identified by the coroner's office Thursday as Denise Chiffon Berry. She died on scene.
Her 12-year-old son ran away, despite gunshot wounds, and talked to investigators before undergoing surgery, authorities said.
The victims had laughed at the gunman just before the shooting, and that appeared to be the only previous contact between them and their assailant, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Dave Coleman said Thursday.
Berry was identified by county coroner’s office Lt. Mario Sainz, who said he did not have her city of residence available. The man who fatally shot her was identified by Coleman as Robert Washington, 38.
Sainz could not confirm the shooter's identity, saying next of kin had not been notified.
At the scene of the shooting — in the 14200 block of Kornblum Avenue — people who said they were relatives of the gunman said Washington was from San Bernardino.
Two other men who were in the 1994 Cadillac — the driver and backseat passenger — were arrested. They were identified by Coleman as half brothers: Stanley White, 24, of Rancho Cucamonga; and Brandon White, 19, of Long Beach.
Stanley White, the driver, was arrested on suspicion of murder and conspiracy, while Brandon White, the backseat passenger, was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy, Coleman said.
The victims may have been targeted after the boy made eye contact with those in the Cadillac as they drove by in the Mercedes, Coleman told the Daily Breeze.
The mother and son saw one of the people in the Cadillac with his feet hanging out of the window, and chuckled about it, Coleman confirmed to KTLA. At some point the boy made eye contact with the shooter, Coleman told the Breeze.
“This is what the little boy is saying,” Coleman told the newspaper, “Mommy says, ‘Look at that, isn’t that funny?’ and they made eye contact. She drove on and they began following her.”
The shooting took place about 12:30 p.m., right after Berry had pulled up next to a stopped Hawthorne police patrol car, telling the officer she thought she was being followed.
The officer told her to pull up in front of him so he could help her, according to the Sheriff's Department. At that moment, the Cadillac arrived, and the gunman got out and opened fire with two handguns, authorities said.
The Hawthorne police officer then got out of his car and returned fire, killing the gunman.
Berry was declared dead on scene.
She was a bus operator for Metro and had worked for the transit agency for 4 1/2 years, a Metro spokeswoman said. A photo on her Facebook page posted last June showed her posing in a Metro baseball cap, with the partial caption "blessed to have a job."
No booking photos for the Whites were being released, Coleman said. They were being held on $1 million bail each, inmate records showed.
KTLA's Jennifer Thang and Alberto Mendez contributed to this article.