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Wounded Holdup Victim Receives Help, Comfort From Fellow Students : Goodwill: Classmates pitch in with tuition funds for friend who was shot in the face and left partially blind.

December 22, 1991|ANTHONY MILLICAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The gunman who shot Julio Soto did much more than leave the Cal State Dominguez Hills senior partially blind. He came close to shattering a dream that Soto had held for many years, a dream that finally seemed within reach.

Shot in the face at an automated teller machine in Long Beach during an attempted robbery in September, Soto was left partially blind and out of work, without enough money to afford new eyeglasses.

His dream of beginning his clinical year as a medical technologist next summer seemed shattered.

But that was before a group of classmates pitched in to raise Soto's tuition and other expenses. And now, thanks to the efforts of two science clubs and their "Let's Help Julio" campaign, about $1,800 of the $3,000 needed to keep Soto on track for graduation in 1993 has been raised.

"It's a very horrible story in one sense, but a very heartwarming one too," said Sofia Pappatheodorou, faculty adviser to the Science Society student organization. "There is a legitimate need here. If we could put out a little bit, we could make a real difference in his life."

Soto, who lives in Los Angeles, was in his car at an automated teller in Long Beach when he was approached by three youths. Without a word, one of them pulled a handgun. The gun misfired, but as Soto attempted to drive off, the youth pulled the trigger again. This time a bullet struck Soto in the left side of his face.

The gunman has not been apprehended. Soto fears retribution for talking about the incident, and asks that his photograph not be published. He has returned to school, but briefly considered dropping his rigorous load of science classes.

"I had a pretty active life," said Soto, 28. "I used to work every day and go to school full time. After this happened, my first reaction was, 'There goes everything.' "

A native of Guatemala who has no family in the United States, Soto faces an array of medical bills from reconstructive surgery and related expenses.

His predicament has captured the attention of faculty and students on the small, tightknit campus in Carson, Pappatheodorou said. When the Science Society and Clinical Sciences student clubs heard about the incident, the groups hoped to raise $300 to pay for Soto's new glasses. But the drive snowballed, and donations poured in.

A member of both science groups, Soto called the response "incredible." Classmates visited him at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, where he was hospitalized for a week after the shooting, and they taped class lectures for him.

Clinical science professor James Welch welcomed Soto into his home during his recovery. In addition to bake sales and other fund-raisers, the student groups have plastered the campus with flyers about the drive.

"He's worth helping," Pappatheodorou said of Soto, who was a student in her organic chemistry class last semester. "He's back in school and facing his responsibilities with such courage. . . . We want Julio to know that there are many more who love him than want to kill him."

Shefaraz Patel, president of the Clinical Sciences club, said students in the same major form close friendships while in school.

"The classes he's taking are very difficult," Patel said. "Therefore, it is essential that he get that special help."

Soto, who smiles easily, is taking two science courses and laboratory classes. He is planning to enroll in another science course during winter break to keep on track for his clinical training next summer, required for a bachelor's degree in clinical science.

"I'm fortunate to be at a campus where everybody cares," he said.

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