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Stop at Palmdale gas station sparked tragedy for girl and family

Prosecutors say two brothers issued a gang challenge, then chased fleeing family's car and opened fire, hitting a 7-year-old who is not expected to live.

September 06, 2013|By Ruben Vives, Angel Jennings and Richard Winton
  • Desirae Macias, who was on life support Friday, had just started second grade.
Desirae Macias, who was on life support Friday, had just started second… (KTLA )

Desirae Macias and her sister were seated in the back of a car earlier this week when gunfire erupted from a passing vehicle.

The 7-year-old attempted to shield herself from the bullets. But one of them struck her in the back of the head. Next to her, Mary, 8, was covered in her blood, alive but traumatized. Desirae's mother desperately performed CPR.

Desirae is now on life support at Children's Hospital in Los Angeles and is not expected to survive. Meanwhile, outrage about the violence is growing.

Prosecutors filed murder charges Friday afternoon against two brothers suspected of shooting the girl.

Jesus Alberto Peralta, 22, and Carlos Peralta, 19, both of Palmdale, face murder, attempted murder and gun charges.

If convicted, the brothers each would face a maximum of 185 years to life in prison, prosecutors said.

The incident began Wednesday at a Mobil gas station in Palmdale. Desirae and her sister were in the car with their mother, identified in court records as Lorena Ybarra, and her mother's boyfriend. Authorities say the boyfriend, identified in court records as Brandon Castellano, was confronted by a group of men, among them the Peralta brothers.

Prosecutors allege the brothers "issued a gang challenge" to Castellano.

Castellano, who authorities say had no gang ties, tried to walk away, but the men continued to confront him.

The two men "came out saying, 'Don't be scared. Don't be scared,' and didn't want to let them go," said Desirae's aunt Rose Galvan. "He said, 'I have kids in the car. I have to go.' "

Authorities say Castellano sprayed the men with pepper spray. He then jumped into the passenger seat, and Ybarra drove off with the kids in the back seat. The gunmen followed, eventually opening fire on the car, officials said.

The men, in a green Ford F-150 pickup chased the car through residential streets as the family tried to evade the gunmen, officials said.

The family didn't realize the second-grader had been shot until after they made it home, Galvan said. She said authorities told her a bullet had ricocheted off a taillight and went through the back seat, hitting Desirae.

Ybarra, who is studying to be a medical assistant, tried to revive her while neighbors called police. On Thursday, dried blood still stained the sidewalk where Desirae had lain. Flowers, teddy bears and a picture of the pigtailed girl beaming in a school photo had been placed outside of the house.

Neighbors describe Desirae as a happy and polite child who would stop by to talk about her day. She loves school, said Galvan, and was excited that she had just started second grade.

The community planned for a vigil Friday night as people awaited further news of the 7-year-old. Desirae's family has received an outpouring of support from the community.

"It sounds more like a bad television movie than something that we would think would happen in our community," said Darren Parker, a longtime Antelope Valley resident and chairman of the Antelope Valley Human Relations Commission.

Desirae remained on life support Friday afternoon, said Lt. Larry Dietz of the Los Angeles County coroner's office. Dietz said she "will not survive" and that it's up to her family to decide when to remove her from life support.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck has expressed dismay over the incident.

"It's a tragedy," he said Thursday. "Firearms are used far too often to settle minor disputes."

Times staff writer Kate Mather contributed to this report.

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