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THE LANDERS AND BIG BEAR QUAKES : Death of Toddler Touches Many in Close-Knit Town

June 30, 1992|GEBE MARTINEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

YUCCA VALLEY, Calif. — Most people in this High Desert town probably never met 3 1/2-year-old Joseph R. Bishop, but his brief life touched them nonetheless.

To those who knew his family, the death of the young boy in Sunday morning's earthquake was a senseless tragedy--and the third loss to strike the locally well-known family in recent years.

Even those who did not know the Bishops expressed deep sorrow, as people in the community banded together Monday to assist each other. Mothers, it seemed, clutched their babies a little tighter, haunted by thoughts that a similar accident could have happened in their homes.

"After hearing there was a 3 1/2-year-old killed, it was freaky," said Angel Phillips, 28, as she shopped for provisions Monday. "We want to safeguard for our baby."

Joseph was the only person to die as a result of earthquake injuries. But one-quarter of the 140 patients treated Sunday and Monday at the Hi Desert Medical Center were children, said Teresa Graham, spokeswoman for the Joshua Tree hospital.

At Twentynine Palms Marine Corp Base, Vicky Lomeli said she shut and locked the doors leading to the outdoors where her 14-month-old son usually plays. "I kept him inside so that if anything happens, I can grab him real fast."

Joseph Bishop's parents, Cindy and John Bishop of Newbury Port, Mass., had brought four of their five children to visit relatives while they attended a 20-year high school reunion.

Saturday, on the night of the party, several children of the reunited classmates had their own slumber party at the home of a friend.

Just before dawn, the earth rocked as Joseph Bishop slept in a sleeping bag on the floor next to the fireplace. Ron Franklin, a friend of the baby-sitter, said the upper half of the fireplace--a wall of bricks and decorative rock--came crashing down and struck the boy in the head.

"It's a disaster," Franklin said. "It's a nightmare (that) you want to wake up (from)."

The Bishop family, he said, was "taking it real hard" and is in seclusion.

The Bishops moved from Yucca Valley several years ago, but had grown up here. Cindy Bishop's grandparents had pioneered the desert town, and John Bishop's father was the pastor at an Episcopal church until a couple of years ago, friends said.

"They have been in love since they were in high school," said Ruth Petro, a longtime family friend.

Family acquaintance Art Miller Jr. called the death shocking--even more so "when you know the family," noting that, in the past few years, a sister and a brother of Cindy Bishop had died in Yucca Valley.

Whether in tragedy or in better times, this close-knit community sticks together, residents said. And it is that sense of community, they said, that made them honor the family's wishes to mourn privately.

"A lot of people in this town knew them," said Yucca Valley Mayor Kindred Pedersen. "If somebody says: 'I want to be left alone,' people do that.' "

"People are standing by ready to provide any assistance when they need it. I know how important it is to have that support," said Pedersen, whose daughter was killed in a car accident five years ago.

Private services for Joseph were planned for Thursday or Friday, Dick Jensen, manager of Wiefels and Son Funeral Directors, told the Associated Press.

A family friend said the boy is to be buried near his aunt and uncle at Mountain Valley Memorial Park in Joshua Tree.

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