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Seventeen-year-old arrested for infant's homicide

Police say Sunday's triple-shooting in East Palo Alto might have been a case of mistaken identity

Two teenage boys, ages 16 and 17, have been arrested, one in connection with the fatal shooting Sunday (June 5) of a 3-month-old boy in East Palo Alto, police announced at a noon press conference Monday.

The press conference included the infant's mother, who tearfully admonished the alleged killers' parents to "pay attention to their other children."

The second youth was arrested on weapons-violation charges and is being investigated for his possible connection to the homicide and shootings, police Chief Ronald Davis said. The police did not identify either youth because they are minors. Both suspects are being held in San Mateo County Juvenile Hall.

The infant was shot in the head at 12:50 a.m. while sitting in his booster seat in the family car as his parents were leaving a baby shower on the 400 block of Wisteria Drive. The infant's parents also were injured in the hail of bullets that pierced their car. A 3-year-old boy who was also in the back seat of the car was not injured, police said.

Police described the shooting as an act of retribution for a May 31 attack in Redwood City on the 17-year-old. Members of the Sureno gang allegedly beat the youth during an altercation. However, in what is being called a possible case of mistaken identity, the victims of Sunday's shooting were not involved in the May attack and were not the people whom the teens thought they were, police said.

The two teens were picked up Sunday after a half-mile radius manhunt that had police going door to door in East Palo Alto. Police interviewed known gang members and parolees. Davis also credited residents with providing valuable tips that led to the arrests.

The pair was arrested a block away in the 400 block of Larkspur Drive after police searched one home and were led to another. Officers found three weapons at the home. In the process of the interrogations, the 17-year-old made statements that implicated him in the shooting, Acting Captain Jeff Liu said.

The department is continuing to gather evidence to determine whether the 16-year-old or anyone else will also be charged with the homicide and shootings. Police would not say if the two teens are members of a gang. They are not related.

The police released sketches of the two teens Sunday; the 17-year-old is the one wearing a ski cap.

East Palo Alto Mayor Carlos Romero said the community was shocked by the crime, which he called "heinous."

"Yesterday when I visited the victim in the hospital, I promised her that we would spare no resources to bring to justice those perpetrators. Today I can say that we have met that promise.

"And we will pursue this to the very end and work with the DA to make sure that folks know that East Palo Alto is not a place where you can gratuitously shoot anyone, and certainly, tragically, kill a 3-month-old who had nothing to do with anything related to whatever the circumstances around this case are," he said.

"There hasn't been a dry eye in this office," he said.

The infant's 22-year-old mother, Ivonne Garcia Lopez, was released from the hospital so she could attend the press conference. She appeared using a walker. Several members of her family accompanied Garcia Lopez, who at times wept.

She said she and her husband, Oscar Jimenez, had put their two children, a 4-year-old boy and the 3-month-old, Izack Jesus Jimenez Garcia, into their child booster seats. They were just driving away from a family baby shower on Wisteria Drive when two teens approached their vehicle and opened fire through the side window.

Garcia Lopez, who was also sitting in the back seat, said she threw herself across the children when the gunfire erupted. She was shot in the buttocks.

Jimenez sustained multiple broken bones as a result of the shooting, she said. He remains hospitalized.

Garcia Lopez's mother and sister are caring for the 3-year-old boy, who is traumatized by the incident but was not injured, she said.

When the shooting started, Garcia Lopez said she thought she had shielded the children. When she took the infant out of his car seat, she saw he had been shot in the head, she said.

"He was such a precious angel. I was so happy to have him in my life. They killed my baby, and they killed part of my soul, too. I'm so devastated," Garcia Lopez said, adding that the couple was just building their family, and they were happy.

Police do not believe the family knew the shooters or were involved in the May 31 beating of the 17-year-old suspect, Liu said. He stopped short of calling it a case of mistaken identity but said the teens fired upon the car because they thought the people inside were involved but that they were not. Garcia Lopez said neither she nor her husband knew the shooters.

"We haven't done any bad to anyone -- to anyone. I'm a normal citizen. My husband is too," she said.

"I don't know why they pick on us. They should be in school learning, getting theirselves prepared to be somebody in life, not killers.

"I don't know where their parents were at; I don't know. But I definitely have to say to their parents pay attention to their other kids if they have any. Be involved in their kids' lives. Pay attention to them. Give them love. Because if they don't do, they'll find them on the streets, and they hang out with the wrong people and end up being killers destroying families," she said.

Davis said a $25,000 reward for information leading to the apprehension and conviction of those involved still stands. He credited the community's willingness to come forth with information as crucial to the arrest.

"This case would not have been solved without them being very much engaged in making it very clear that the community will not accept this type of violence or any violence," he said.

For the last year, the police department's Violence Interdiction Team (VIT) has focused on gang activity, gang intelligence and enforcement. The team played a vital role in catching the suspects, he said.

The VIT is part of Operation Cease Fire, which has brought down and dismantled the notorious Taliban gang and is working to break up others through interventions and a choice between counseling and social services or zero tolerance and imprisonment, he said.

On Sunday, the team rapidly formed a 12-member task force, which included four loaned members of the Palo Alto Police Department, to seek out gang members, parolees and persons on probation, once police learned the shooting might be gang related, said Sgt. Roderick Norris, who heads the violence-interdiction team.

Police chaplains also conducted a vigil on the block on Sunday afternoon where the shooting occurred.

A memorial fund to help with Izack's funeral expenses, "Izack Jesus Jimenez Garcia memorial fund account," has been set up at Wells Fargo Bank and is accessible at any branch.

Anyone with additional information about the triple shooting is encouraged to call or send a text message to East Palo Alto police at 650-409-6792.

Witnesses can also send tips to epa@tipnow.org.

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