YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Parents Mourn Son, 14, Shot to Death by Gang : Crime: His mother says he was killed only hours before he was to move to Indiana to escape escalating violence in his Stanton neighborhood.


STANTON — A makeshift shrine--two flickering candles and dark blue flowers--memorialized Christopher Louis Vargas on a small back-yard patio Sunday, not far from where the 14-year-old boy was gunned down Friday night by gang members as his mother watched.

As she struggled with grief over her son's death, Linda Vargas spent the day making arrangements to ship her son's body to Indiana for burial later this week, after authorities complete an autopsy.

Meanwhile, investigators on Sunday evening arrested a 14-year-old suspect in the shooting. Orange County Sheriff's Lt. Jay Mendez said the youth, who was not identified because of his age, was not believed to have fired the gun and that other suspects were being sought.

The fatal shooting of Christopher--who was not involved in a gang, his mother said--occurred hours before the boy was to have flown to Indiana. His mother, a 41-year-old data processor, had purchased an airline ticket for him to join her ex-husband at his home in Merrillville, Ind., where she hoped Christopher would find a safe haven from the kind of senseless violence that took his life.

"It was getting bad," she said. "I just didn't want him here in this gang-related area before he got involved. He was never involved, as far as I know."

The Southwest Airlines ticket that Christopher would have used to fly to Indiana instead will be applied to the cost of shipping his body to the Midwest.

"It's senseless," Linda Vargas said. "These kids, they just don't understand. It's people that he didn't even know" who caused her son's death, she said.

"It's a terrible tragedy," said Christopher's father, Luis Vargas, who had already prepared a room for his son.

The 43-year-old steelworker said in a telephone interview that when his 12-year-old son, Xavier, arrives in Indiana from Stanton for Christopher's funeral, "I'd like him to stay here."

Linda Vargas said it was too soon to say whether she or Xavier would remain in the neighborhood.

Before the shooting, Christopher Vargas, a student at Orangeview Junior High School, had gotten in a fistfight with another 14-year-old boy, according to the Orange County Sheriff's Department. The second youth returned to the apartment parking lot with seven or eight friends, and when the argument resumed, one of the friends then shot Vargas with a small caliber handgun. He died at UCI Medical Center in Orange.

Sheriff's Lt. Mendez said the suspect in custody is believed to be the boy who was involved in the fistfight and fled to get his friends. He said police received an anonymous call Sunday afternoon about the youth's whereabouts.

Mendez said that investigators were still interviewing the suspect late Sunday night and that he was expected to remain in Juvenile Hall.

Linda Vargas saw the shooting unfold in the parking lot and tried to stop it.

"I looked up and saw about eight of the boys coming," she said. "I ran to my son and shoved him back, directly behind me. . . . Before I knew it, (another boy) just shot him. Christopher was standing on my left side. I started screaming. I knelt down beside him and told him to hold on. He was conscious for a while. He kept saying: 'It hurts, it hurts.' "

Neighbors in the area, near the corner of Pacific and Magnolia avenues, disagreed about the level of danger. The stretch of Pacific Avenue where Vargas lived is lined with one-story, single-family homes and low-rise apartments. There is little graffiti in evidence, the lawns are neatly trimmed and parked cars display stickers from local colleges.

"There's been some trouble," said Kevin Suh, a next-door neighbor, but no other people have been shot in the immediate area of the complex.

Another neighbor and friend of Linda Vargas said she had heard "a lot of gunshots lately."

The manager of a nearby liquor store, who asked not to be identified, said there was gang activity "once in a while."

Los Angeles Times Articles