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Costa Mesa Girl Fatally Shot; Father Held as Murder Suspect


COSTA MESA — A 15-year-old girl died after being shot in the neck at her home, and police said Friday that even though the shooting might have been accidental, her father had been jailed on suspicion of murder.

Police said the father, David Curtis Stinson, called them to the scene shortly after the shooting at their apartment Thursday night in the 3100 block of Coral Avenue. They said he apparently "shot the girl while he was cleaning or checking (a) gun" as the two talked in his room.

"There was no apparent motive for the shooting," said a Costa Mesa police spokesman, who added that the 39-year-old warehouse supervisor had been drinking before the incident. Stinson was booked on suspicion of murder and was being held Friday in lieu of posting $250,000 bail.

Police would not identify the shooting victim by name, but two teen-agers who were present when the shooting occurred said the girl was Stinson's 15-year-old daughter, Callaster Natis Stinson.

Erica Garcia, 17, said she and Ray Kraskey, 18, had been listening to "hip-hop rap" music with Natis, as she was called by her friends, when Stinson returned home shortly before 9 p.m. Thursday. She said he appeared to be unsteady on his feet and his speech was slurred as if he had been drinking.

Kraskey said that shortly after his return home, the father went into his bedroom and called for his daughter. "He called her in, and then BOOM," said Kraskey, who was tearful Friday as he recalled the events leading to his friend's death.

Garcia said that after the shooting, the father repeatedly tried to dial 911 on his cordless phone but couldn't get it to work. Garcia said she ran next door and called for help on a neighbor's phone. The neighbor, who is a nurse, tried unsuccessfully to revive the girl before she was rushed to Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, where she was pronounced dead.

Garcia said she could not believe that the shooting was intentional. "I don't think he would deliberately kill her. He never even yelled at her," Garcia said.

Several of the father's friends described him as a hard-working man who, after divorcing his wife, had fought in court to win custody of his daughter, arguing that the girl was not being raised properly.

In court documents, Stinson claimed that the girl, then 9 years old, was 20 pounds underweight and had been forced to scrape mold off of bread scraps to have something to eat. Tom Staples, 51, who said he was the father's roommate in 1988 when he got custody of the girl, said Stinson "rescued" the child, who had been living in an abandoned bus in Riverside County with her mother, Suzanne Patricia Stinson.

But Suzanne Stinson questioned the father's parental fitness, accusing him in court documents of excessive drinking. "He would spend time at the bar every day after work and would spend more money than we could afford there," she said.

Julie Block, Erica Garcia's mother, said neighbors had taken Natis "under their wing" once she was awarded to the father, who was known as a good cook--prized for the homemade chicken pot pies he served to neighbors he invited to his home.

Mimi Birch, an assistant principal at Estancia High School, where Natis was a sophomore, described her as "a very bright girl who just couldn't make herself come to school." Christine Cullen, Natis' counselor, said the girl had showed up for school no more than a day or two last semester.

In her neighborhood, Natis was mourned Friday as a good friend and a trusted baby-sitter loved by neighborhood children.

"I cared deeply for Natis. She was very nice, funny, good with children. All the kids loved her," said Sarah Thomas, who on Friday was trying to figure out how to break tell her 6-year-old son that Natis was dead.

"It is a tragedy," Thomas added. "We know her dad did love her. It shows how dangerous it is to have firearms in your home."

Neighbors said they will have a car wash today and Sunday at the Mesa Verde Shell station at 3131 Harbor Blvd. to try to raise money to pay for the funeral.

Times staff writers Anna Cekola and Greg Hernandez contributed to this story.

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