When Life Imitates an Action Movie: The Shock of Recognition at the Sunset Vine Shootings

December 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

It happened a week ago, but the horror hasn’t worn off: at 10:19am on Dec. 9th, a deranged young man named Tyler Brehm walked up Vine Street towards Sunset Blvd., shooting at the drivers of passing cars. Before he was killed by off-duty LAPD officers, two of whom just happened to be driving through Hollywood, Brehm managed to wound three people, one of whom later died, firing off at least ten rounds. It might have been much worse: there were scores of cars passing through the intersection, and pedestrians caught in the crossfire. Confusing matters further was a nearby film shoot, which made passersby wonder if the shooting wasn’t part of the movie.

Videos and photos only increased the surrealness of the event. The photo above, in which two police officers approach the downed gunman (who has just been shot), recalls “Southland,” as well as every other police drama set in Los Angeles. Even more stunning was the photo, since vanished from the Internet, of Det. Craig Marquez, an off-duty LAPD officer, striding toward the gunman, weapon in hand. Marquez, who was honored today for heroism along with two other officers, looked like he had walked straight out of (or into) a Michael Mann movie.

Beyond the fast and fortuitous police action, there was an extraordinary (and oddly cinematic) intervention by a civilian. Chris Johns, a resident of the Sunset Vine Tower, saw Brehm from his fourth floor apartment and distracted him by pretending to be suicidal, leaning out the window and yelling, “Come on up here, Buddy!” It worked: Brehm took notice, asking Johns for an ambulance and more ammunition. When the police arrived, Johns identified Brehm as the gunman. Then it was over.

The shock has yet to subside, and not just because those of us who live here drive by Sunset and Vine constantly. What lingers disturbingly is the randomness of the crime, and its lurid imitation of TV and cinema. Since Brehm was a newcomer from Pennsylvania, it’s fair to ask, why take it out on us

And why take it out on Hollywood? Though hardly crime-free, it’s not an area where residents or outsiders fear for their lives. Night and day, crowds of tourists roam the streets, along with locals and suburbanites who come for the movies and plays, restaurants and clubs. At Sunset and Vine, everyone uses the ATMs and shops at Trader Joe’s. For the most part, Hollywood is a very pleasant place. 

But last Friday, a homicidal gunman decided to stage his final act there, like a villain in an action movie. He claimed one life but left his mark on many more.

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