More than 300 mourners, many of them classmates and friends, attended the funeral Monday of 15-year-old David Gallardo, who was shot and killed while fleeing the scene of an alleged burglary attempt in Costa Mesa last week.
White and yellow roses on a bed of green ferns adorned the youth's casket. It was wheeled into St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Costa Mesa as Gallardo's friends, many of whom sobbed and hugged one another, tried to make sense of the incident.
"This was a one-shot deal for David," said Alex Correa, 15, one of Gallardo's friends who had attended Estancia High School in Costa Mesa. "He wasn't a hard-core criminal or anything. He just made a mistake."
Detectives and prosecutors have refused to discuss many aspects of the shooting, including the identity of the man who allegedly saw Gallardo and another youth trying to steal wheel parts from a Porsche outside Holtz VW Repair on West 20th Street and fired a shotgun at them. The shooting occurred after midnight last Wednesday.
Shop manager Russ Williams has said that the man, a friend of his, fired unintentionally after Gallardo and a companion, Thomas Ramirez, 16, attempted to drive off. When the car moved forward, according to this account, the shotgun struck a window post and accidentally fired. Gallardo was fatally wounded in the back of the head.
Costa Mesa police on Monday refused to disclose any new information about the case, referring inquiries to the district attorney's office.
"The last word is we have a hold on everything for release of information. You'll have to call the district attorney's office," said Sgt. Rod Haddock.
Richard M. King, the deputy district attorney assigned the case, said the investigation is continuing and "I'm not going to comment."
The reluctance by authorities to give information or make an arrest of the civilian who shot Gallardo has troubled the youth's mother, her attorney said.
"With such a tight lid surrounding the circumstances, it gives the impression that it was an accident, which is inconceivable," said Amador L. Corona of Santa Ana, the attorney.
He noted that Ramirez, Gallardo's companion, was quoted in newspaper articles over the weekend as saying the gunman never gave any warning. Ramirez said the gunman was about three or four feet away from Gallardo's door window when he fired.
'Closer to God Now'
At the church, Father Rod T. Stephens, associate pastor, tried to explain to the young mourners how death is often confusing. But he said Gallardo is "closer to God now."
The belief among many who attended the funeral services was that police are protecting the man who shot the youth and are not investigating the case aggressively because the dead victim was Latino.
"I categorically deny that," said Capt. Robert E. Moody, acting Costa Mesa police chief. "We've worked hard, especially in the Latino community, trying to build bridges, but it's not our case anymore. It's been turned over to the district attorney's office and we can't release the name."
Norma Hertzog, Costa Mesa mayor, said: "No matter who is involved, we will get to the bottom of this."
Moody said that his investigators have worked hard on the case. When they turned it over to the district attorney's office for review of possible criminal charges, "it was no longer in our hands. I hope the parents understand this," Moody said.
'Totally Out of Character'
One of the mourners, Bonnie Flores, an administrator of Estancia's migrant farm worker program who is now on leave, said she was shocked when she heard about Gallardo's death.
"It was totally out of character for this boy," Flores said as she lingered with other mourners after the burial at Harbor Lawn-Mount Olive Mortuary & Memorial Park.
She described Gallardo, who was enrolled in the migrant education program, as "very bright." He was a typical youngster, she said, who "didn't know what he wanted in life" but was never a discipline problem.
"It's odd," Flores continued. "If he had been arrested, at the most he would have gotten probation. Now he's dead. That man (who killed Gallardo) was judge, jury and executioner."