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Gunfire in Buena Park Wounds 4-Year-Old Boy

Bullet grazes the youngster's hand as he walks with his sister. Police suspect gangs were responsible for the drive-by shooting.

April 30, 2003|Zeke Minaya | Times Staff Writer

Four-year-old Joel Aguilar didn't cry when a bullet grazed his left hand as he walked with his sister to his Buena Park home Monday evening, his aunt, Erica Aguilar, said Tuesday. "He thought he had been hit by a broken bottle."

Joel held up his bloodied hand to officers who arrived within two minutes after neighbors called with reports of gunfire, Buena Park Police Sgt. Richard Pena said. Joel was treated at West Anaheim Medical Center and released. Raquel Aguilar said doctors told her that her son might lose the use of his left pinkie.

Police arrested a 16-year-old Buena Park boy late Monday, but released him Tuesday for lack of evidence connecting him to the shooting, Pena said.

Witnesses told police that the shots were fired from a red Honda at the intersection of Western Avenue and Franklin Street. Pena said the gunfire was intended for two men who were riding bikes on Franklin and might be part of a recent pattern of retaliatory violence between rival gangs. The bike riders were being sought for questioning.

The shooting has reopened old wounds in a city still dealing with the killing last summer of 9-year-old Xavier Morales, who was hit by a stray bullet during July 4 festivities. No arrests have been made in that case.

Erica Aguilar, who lives with her sister and nephew in a house near where Joel was shot, said the family might move. "We plan to look for some other place to live far from here," she said, "especially after the death of that little boy last year."

Buena Park Police Chief Gary Hicken has taken an interest in Joel's shooting as he did a year ago after Xavier was killed at a Independence Day celebration at Boisserance Park. He has demanded frequent updates on the investigation, he said.

"We're going to go full speed to apprehend anyone who hurts innocent people," Hicken said, "especially little children."

The department still has a picture of Xavier on its Web site and continues to offer a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case. No weapon was recovered, but police did find the .22-caliber bullet that struck him in the side.

After Xavier's killing, Hicken spearheaded a move to ban local sales of fireworks that he said encouraged the gunfire in Boisserance Park by masking its sound. On April 22, the city council approved the ban, which will take effect in May.

Hicken promised to turn his attention to gang violence. "This is a typical gangland scenario," he said. "They [gang members] ought to be locked up and kept there permanently. Anything I can do to bring them to justice, I will."

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