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At around 8pm on March 10, 2021, I arrived at the Silverlake Station parking lot after a quick trip to the grocery store. I was making dinner for my wife, who texted me earlier from her office to tell me she would be home at 8:30 pm. I carried the grocery bags to the back entrance of the building and pulled my keys to open the door. As I went for the lock, through the door I saw Mr. X walking to his apartment, which is the first unit to the right in the long hallway leading to the front of the building. Halfway this hallway is the building’s only elevator. Ironically, a few months back I had installed a metal mesh on the back door to, among other things, allow tenants to spot any threats before entering or exiting the building.
I struggled opening the door and dropped my keys. I picked them up and opened the door. As I walked next to Mr. X’s apartment, he yelled at me. “What the fuck are you looking at?” I asked if everything was OK. “Go fuck yourself you piece of shit,” he yelled. I resumed walking. His behavior was par for the course.
At the elevator, I set the bags on the floor and pushed the call button. As I waited, Mr. X began to yell his regular repertoire of insults in my direction. “Fuck you,” “You can’t evict me you piece of shit,” “What are you gonna do? Call the police?” “Call them!” I remained calm and kept waiting for the elevator, even though he began moving in my direction.
“I am no wetback, motherfucker.” “I’m not one of your illegal tenants.” “I am an American you piece of shit.” “I’m not a wetback like you, you immigrant piece of shit.”
The elevator arrived as Mr. X moved in my direction. I avoided making big threatening moves or any other move that would convey fear or incite a reaction, but I opened the heavy metal elevator door to shield myself from him. He kept yelling. “I’m never gonna pay your rent you piece of shit.” “I don’t give a fuck.” “You don’t know me.”
Half-blocked by the elevator door, Mr. X stood one step away from me. Here I noticed one of his front teeth was missing. “What are you looking at?” He yelled before engaging in more serious but not unheard-of threats. “I’m gonna kill you you piece of shit.” “I can’t wait motherfucker.” “Just say something.” “You are gonna pay for all the harassing.”
By “harassing” Mr. X meant the legally required 3-Day Notices for failure to pay rent I posted on his door every month before the eviction moratorium decreed by the city of LA in March 2020. As instructed by my bosses, I didn’t serve 3-Day Notices on his apartment or any other apartment after that date. By “harassing” he also meant the numerous times I had to call the police because of his erratic, violent, or abusive behavior towards me, my wife, or the building in general.
As Mr. X continued with the insults, I picked up the grocery bags without taking my eyes off him. As I straightened myself up, Mr. X fell silent, stared at my eyes for a beat, and punched me in the face. Right hand, left jaw. His punch twisted my eyeglasses and turned my face hard to the right, but it was surprisingly weak. Like the punch of a child.
The punch enraged me but considering my duties as a manager and the liabilities that could arise from my reaction, I simply fixed my glasses and turned to Mr. X. “Happy? Time to go home and call it a night.” Naturally, I was going to call my boss and the police as soon as I got home, but he didn’t reply. He stared at me with a bewildered look on his face and quickly reached for the back of his shorts with his right hand.
He had made this move many times in the past, and every time I called the office and the police. In three occasions he was sent to a psych guard because he threatened to kill himself. One time for yelling at the cops that his blood was already on their hands. The rest of the times he was released, and the police seized his firearms at some point. Nevertheless, when he reached for the back of his pants, I believed he had a gun. I dropped the bags at his feet, pushed him with the elevator’s door, and ran as fast as I could towards the building’s main entrance on Vermont Avenue.
Had I known he had a knife instead of gun, I would have tackled him or ran upstairs instead of to an exit. He would have never caught me. However, running out of the building seemed like a better idea at the time, not only to escape personal harm but also to lead an armed individual out of the premises for the safety of other tenants.
In the three or four seconds it took for me to reach the main door, I planned to get outside and cover myself behind whatever car was parked on the street. However, opening the door to the street proved challenging. The doorknob of the building’s main entrance is enclosed in a metal case to prevent people without a key from turning the doorknob and opening the door from outside. This works, but it also makes it difficult to open the door from inside.
Normally, this is not a problem, but as I rushed away from Mr. X, I was unable to turn the doorknob in time to escape.
As soon as I realized I had wasted a precious second trying to open the door, I turned around and saw Mr. X thrusting his knife into my back. I don’t remember pain, but that was when Mr. X punctured my lung because immediately I felt as if I was drunk and breathing became tremendously difficult. Instead of filling up my lungs, every time I drew a breath air seemed to bubble and whistle out of the wound on my back.
By then I had grabbed Mr. X’s hands and I was able to control his repeated attempts to stab me. He managed cut me again, but I avoided more severe wounds by keeping the blade from going too deep into my body. However, I had to do something quick because I couldn’t breathe. I felt as if I was under water and feared collapsing from oxygen deprivation.
At that moment I thought that if I pushed my back against something, I would temporarily plug the hole on my back and be able to breath again, but before I could push myself against a wall, I slipped to the floor and Mr. X fell over me. I don’t remember the fall, but I must have hit my head hard because I still can’t feel the back right quarter of my scalp and an area the size of a matchbook lost all its hair.
Falling to the floor, however, had the same effect as pushing myself against the wall, as I was able to block the hole on my back against the floor and I began breathing again. Painfully and only in short and shallow breaths, but at least I had some air going through my lungs. Unfortunately, being in a horizontal position also had its drawbacks. Immediately blood began to pool inside the jean jacket I was wearing that day and I had to fight even harder to stay awake. Especially after blood began gushing from my mouth, which I took for a call to act as fast as possible.
Meanwhile, Mr. X unsuccessfully insisted on pushing his knife through my ribs in a move I read as an attempt to reach my heart. He couldn’t because I was holding his hands and, just like his punch, his efforts seemed weak considering I was the one on the verge of physical collapse.
Until then, I had kept my eyes firmly set on the knife, but as I felt more confident of my capacity to overcome the attack, I looked at Mr. X’s face and chuckled at the absurdity of the situation. “Mr. X, are you seriously trying to kill me?” I asked him. Mr. X replied positively with a deformed face. “I’m going to kill you motherfucker. Just die you piece of shit.”
Using all my energy, I pulled both of his hands at eye level, quickly released his left hand, snatched the knife from his right hand, and grabbed his left hand again without dropping the knife. Mr. X opened his eyes wide when he realized that I had not only disarmed him, if I wanted to, I could also drive the knife down his belly with relative ease. I thought about this option for the longest seconds of my life.
First thing that crossed my mind was a scene from the 1998 film Saving Private Ryan in which a Nazi soldier stabs a Jewish US private to death with a bayonet. That hyperviolent scene is at the heart of the film and traumatized me from the day I saw it in theaters. Obviously, the roles now had been reversed and I was the one with the power of life and death in my hands. Then I thought about the consequences. If I killed Mr. X, I would expose the building and myself to criminal and civil liabilities. I would also have to live with it, and I might expose my family to retaliation from who knows what kind of underworld characters related to Mr. X. Considering this, I decided to throw the knife away.
At this point, I didn’t know if Mr. X had another weapon on him. I assumed he did and that he was waiting for an opportunity to grab it. The only reason he had not done it yet, I believed, was that I had held both his hands tight from the beginning of the struggle.
The only moment he wasn’t under my grip was when I released his left hand to take control of the knife, but that only worked because of the element of surprise. And I didn’t have that anymore because he was expecting me to make a move with the knife. I didn’t have a choice, though. As I weakened, Mr. X could take the knife back and finish me. In fact, he had tried already. As I considered how to proceed, he began forcing my hand around and aimed the knife at my chest, where he managed to pierce my skin. After this failure, he tried to push the knife into my head from under my chin. He was also able to puncture my skin, but I managed to push the blade away. It was time to get rid of the knife.
I turned to the door to aim for an opening as Mr. X became agitated trying to free himself from my grip. It was then that I saw Mr. Wally Lopez arriving at the building. Mr. Lopez is the tenant of unit 217. Immediately, I told him to call 911 and moved to get rid of the knife while Mr. X was distracted by Mr. Lopez’s presence. I released his left hand, pushed my hand through the bars of the main door, and threw the knife as far as possible. However, when I went back for his left hand, Mr. X held a spray can he aimed at my face. I grabbed the can, but Mr. X sprayed my eyes before I yanked it and threw it away the same way as the knife.
The spray didn’t hurt (according to the police it was expired pepper spray), but for some reason it enraged me more than the stabbings. I shook Mr. X hard by the wrist and yelled at him that that was it. “Stop it. You are not going anywhere.”
I turned to Mr. Lopez while Mr. X kept trying to run away. As usual, the 911 operator was asking more questions than necessary, such as Mr. X’s clothing. I yelled at Mr. Lopez to tell the operator someone was trying to kill me. Wally said he had already said that, but the operator kept asking questions. Unable to do anything about it, I closed my eyes and focused on my grip around Mr. X’s wrists as blood gushed from my mouth. Then I gave myself one job, to hold onto him until the police arrived.
Almost immediately Mr. Lopez urged me to keep my eyes open, police was on the way. Opening my eyes wasn’t easy as I could feel my body shutting down. I was extremely tired and confused. The Silverlake Station is a couple of blocks away from two major hospitals, and sirens are common in the area. I listened carefully for sirens parking in front of the building, and only released Mr. X when I thought police had arrived. Mr. X ran to his apartment immediately.
I was mistaken, though. No one had arrived yet. Mr. Lopez kept yelling to keep my eyes open, but I had no plans to close them as I believed Mr. X was coming back to finish the job. So, while I waited for the police, I kept my eyes fixed on the hallway and got ready to jump outside the building if I saw him coming back. This was easier said than done because, for once, I would not be able to breathe once I stood up, and second, I wasn’t sure I would be able to even get on my feet. Luckily, paramedics arrived soon after.
They removed my jacket, cut my pants, and put me on a stretcher. I choked when I was lifted from the floor but was able to breathe again once my back hit the stretcher. I was about to be taken away when police arrived. A cop kneeled next to me and asked where my attacker was. I told him and a group of cops entered the building.
Afraid to fade away, I told the paramedics to hand me my wallet, belt, eyeglasses, and phone. One of the paramedics said to don’t worry about it, but I insisted. He placed the objects in my hand. As I was carried to the ambulance, I set myself a second mission. To don’t let my things fall from my hand. This task kept me awake until we arrived at the hospital, when I finally handed my things to a paramedic and let myself go. There was nothing I could do at that point to keep me alive. It was time for the doctors to take over.