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Soldier Back From Iraq Is Slain Outside His Mother's Home

The GI, who was recovering from a back injury, is shot dead after an argument in a Victorville street.

June 24, 2004|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

An Army paratrooper who had survived tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq was fatally shot outside his mother's home in Victorville early Wednesday.

Daniel Maldonado, 20, was recovering in his hometown after breaking three vertebrae in a 70-foot fall from a military helicopter in Iraq. He was to report to Fort Bragg, N.C., today and expected to be returned to the war zone.

"He was about 90% recovered," Rosa Maldonado said. "He had been home with us for 10 days. These were very nice days for him. He was so happy to be home.... [This is] the worst thing to happen to me in my life."

Maldonado was sitting with his girlfriend and two other friends in chairs on the front lawn, chatting and sipping beers, when an unidentified man approached them just after midnight. As Maldonado argued with the man in the street, a car pulled up, and a passenger fired at least one shot into the Army private's chest and drove away.

Maldonado ran from the street back to his home and collapsed inside his garage, where he was declared dead minutes later. Detectives said they believed the argument was not related to gangs or drugs.

"What are the odds that a guy can go through all that much in military action only to be killed in a street fight on American soil?" said Sgt. Derek Pacifico, a San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department homicide detective. "The guy made it through two tours."

Maldonado, one of eight siblings, graduated from Victor Valley High School in 2001 and had long aspired to become an Army Ranger. He attended ROTC classes in high school and was an Apple Valley police explorer.

April Conde, 19, Maldonado's ex-fiancee, said Maldonado had accomplished "his dream and passion," by qualifying for Ranger school, which he was to begin at Fort Bragg this month.

"Ever since the day I met him when we were 16 and asked him what he wanted to do with his life, he told me to become a Ranger or a Special Forces member," Conde said. "His dream had come true. He was ready to go."

Rosa Maldonado said her son entered the Army soon after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He told his mother he was enrolled in Army training in Afghanistan with former NFL player Pat Tillman, who died in military action this year in Afghanistan. Maldonado was an accomplished marksman and was assigned for nine months to paratrooper duties in Afghanistan, his mother said.

Maldonado returned to the United States after his Afghanistan tour. But late last year, he was redeployed to Iraq.

On March 23, about 70 miles south of Baghdad, Maldonado fell an estimated 70 feet from a military helicopter while it was lifting off. He suffered major back injuries and spent six weeks at a military hospital in Germany before returning home to Victorville.

Rosa Maldonado said her family had been ecstatic about having him home. The family often discussed his service in the 82nd Airborne Division. He expressed to his family great sadness at deteriorating conditions in Iraq and seeing so many Iraqis killed in terrorist bombings.

"He felt bad for all the people who were getting killed over there," she said. "He was to report to Fort Bragg [today], and was to begin Ranger training. He told me he was probably headed back to the war again."

Maldonado hoped to return to America to serve as godfather to his niece at her upcoming quinceanera, a party celebrating her 15th birthday.

Ultimately, said Conde, Maldonado wanted to join the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, but he expressed an obligation to remain in the military as the war continued.

"To everyone who knew him, he was a hero," she said.

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