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Witnesses tell of grisly attack

A 6-year-old boy was fatally beaten with a cleaver in Thousand Oaks, his mother badly hurt. A suspect is in jail.

August 14, 2007|Gregory W. Griggs and Maria L. La Ganga | Times Staff Writers

The blood that stained the courtyard of the modest Thousand Oaks apartment complex had been washed away by Monday morning. In its place stood a makeshift memorial: A teddy bear and a few balloons. A Winnie-the-Pooh baby blanket. And a single rose for every year the young victim had lived.

Sev'n Molina, age 6, was hacked to death with a meat cleaver Sunday night, as his mother fought to save his life, terrified neighbors called 911 and the bravest among them tried to intervene in the grisly struggle.

Sheriff's deputies arrested Calvin Sharp, 27, and took him to Ventura County Jail, said Senior Sheriff's Deputy Julie Novak. Sharp, a self-employed cab driver, is expected to be charged with one count of murder and two counts of attempted murder -- rare violent crimes in what regularly ranks as one of nation's safest large cities.

The harrowing attack at the Hillcrest Park Apartments began about 9:30 p.m. in the first-floor unit where the boy lived with his mother, Sandra Ruiz, 33. Sharp and Ruiz had been arguing, at least in part, about whether Sev'n spent too much time playing video games, neighbors said.

After the boy burst from the apartment into the communal courtyard, witnesses said, Sharp followed him, wielding the cleaver, and began hacking at the child's head and shouting, "Die, die!"

Neighbors Patrick Bowman, 21, and his girlfriend, Christina Kindred, 18, heard screams and ran to the courtyard, where they stumbled on the frightening scene: Ruiz yelling for someone, anyone, to grab her son. Sev'n sitting beside Sharp, bleeding. Sharp brandishing the cleaver.

"When I tried to grab the kid, that's when [Sharp] grabbed him and pulled him closer and started flailing that knife like crazy," Bowman said. "He pulled the kid closer to him and started to beat and hack him with the knife."

Bowman narrowly missed being slashed. Terrified, he and Kindred ran back to her apartment, where they dialed 911, then returned to the courtyard.

"When we ran upstairs, the kid was alive. When we got back out, the kid was dead," Bowman said Monday. "I feel horrible."

Ruiz tried to save her son, but Sharp allegedly turned the cleaver on her, cutting the woman repeatedly and nearly severing one of her hands. At that point, an older woman who also lived in the complex ran outside and tackled the assailant, knocking the bloody weapon away and getting cut in the face.

As they struggled, another man ran out to help, and the two pinned Sharp down until police arrived and subdued him with a Taser gun.

The older woman "was a hero," said one neighbor, who did not want to be identified. Ruiz was so badly wounded in the attack that "you couldn't even tell what color her hair was, it was so bloody. It was horrid."

By the time neighbor Brad Baker, 37, heard screams and ran to see what was happening, the courtyard was filled with paramedics and law enforcement officers.

"It was very gruesome," Baker said. "I couldn't believe somebody could do this to a child when it's so much easier to walk away."

By late Monday, the Ventura County medical examiner's office reported that Sev'n had died from "sharp-force head injuries." Ruiz was listed in critical condition after surgery at Los Robles Regional Medical Center, spokeswoman Kris Carraway-Bowman said. Ruiz was breathing with the help of a ventilator in the intensive care unit.

"At this point in the investigation, all signs point to an isolated domestic disturbance," Thousand Oaks Mayor Andy Fox said Monday evening in a written statement. "The city's thoughts and prayers go out to Sandra Ruiz, her family and friends on the tragic loss of her young son."

Authorities said Ruiz and Sharp knew each other, but they would not describe the nature of the relationship. However, neighbor Kindred said she believed that Sharp had lived with Ruiz in the complex until several months ago.

Michael Brandon, a cameraman with KCAL-TV Channel 9 and a friend of Ruiz, said he did not know if she had been married to Sharp but he was aware that she was living in fear, apparently from her husband, and had moved from Canoga Park to Thousand Oaks.

"She was a great lady, a good friend and a wonderful mother," he said. "Her son was all she had. She won't want to live after this. This alone will kill her, knowing her son is dead."

Shannon Farrar, the child's former preschool teacher, placed flowers, a teddy bear and a class photo of a smiling Sev'n at the child's memorial. She said the young boy had graduated from her class in June of last year and was her favorite.

"He was a happy, fun child," she said. "He was never aggressive. He would never hurt anybody. When angry or upset, he would cry out for his mother."

Neighbors said Sharp drove a Chevrolet van bearing a sign for P6 restaurant in nearby Westlake Village. Restaurant manager Grant Johnson said the restaurant had bought an ad on Sharp's vehicle and about once a month hired the cab driver to take patrons home.

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