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Toddler Dies After Being Shot on Porch : Tragedy: The girl’s mother had stopped at a house during a walk in South El Monte. Gang-related gunfire also injures two men.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A family’s evening stroll ended in death Monday when a mother and her three young children, who had stopped briefly at a house in South El Monte, were caught in gunfire from a gang-related shooting.

When the shots ended, 16-month-old Maureen Ramirez sagged limp in her stroller on the front porch, bleeding from a gunshot wound to the head that later claimed her life.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Sep. 01, 1994 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday September 1, 1994 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 3 Column 5 Metro Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Slain girl--A story in The Times on Wednesday incorrectly identified the mother of 16-month-old slaying victim Maureen Ramirez. The mother’s name is Elaine Mendoza. Her daughter died Monday in a gang-related shooting in South El Monte.

Two men who were also on the porch--one of whom neighbors said had gang tattoos--escaped with minor wounds.

“I didn’t know the people at the house,” said the slain baby’s mother, Elaine Ramirez, as she was comforted Tuesday by friends at her home in El Monte. “I’ve never been there before. . . . I was at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

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The shooting occurred about 9:30 p.m. when two men in their 20s walked up to the Sastre Street house, opened fire with semiautomatic weapons and fled on foot, authorities said. The shooting is believed to be gang-related because witnesses said the two suspects resembled gang members, a Sheriff’s Department spokesman said.

Sheriff’s investigators identified the wounded men as Romero Castellanos, 31, and Jessie Medina, 23. Castellanos was hit in the back and Medina was wounded in the left leg. Both were treated at Greater El Monte Community Hospital and released.

Ramirez, 30, said she and her 8-year-old son, 5-year-old daughter and toddler Maureen had stopped at the house purely by chance. A single mother and devout Christian, Ramirez said she and two other adults had decided to take her children for a walk.

As they passed the Sastre Street house, she said, they were greeted by a man who attends their church in Montebello. The group paused to chat and Ramirez’s 5-year-old daughter asked to use the bathroom of the house. Ramirez said her daughter had just come out of the house and the group was preparing to leave when nine shots were fired.

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As her children screamed, Ramirez realized to her horror that Maureen had been hit in the forehead. Instinctively, Ramirez said, she pulled her daughter out of the stroller and ran.

“I freaked out and ran into the hall with her to the bathroom to wash her up,” Ramirez said. “But I knew she was gone. She was bleeding out of her mouth and nose and she was real limp.”

On Tuesday, Ramirez wept as she recalled her daughter’s short life. Nicknamed Morty by family members, the girl was called the “praise and worship child” by church members because of her enthusiastic clapping during hymns and her joyful, happy-go-lucky personality.

The child’s first word was amen , Ramirez said. Her daughter could barely talk but knelt with clasped hands every night beside her older brother and sister to pray at bedtime, the mother said.

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“As little as she was, she touched a lot of people’s lives,” Ramirez said, wiping away tears.

“I don’t feel hatred toward (the gunmen),” she added. “Like it says in the Bible, the little children are the Lord’s.”

Neighbors on Sastre Street said the shooting was not surprising in an area a street where parents call their children in after dark because of the dangers outside. Young men congregate on corners, music blares from passing cars and gang members routinely run up alleys and driveways fleeing assailants, they said.

Gang graffiti is scribbled on sidewalks and utility poles. Rocks have been thrown through windows of some houses, and the damage remains unrepaired for weeks, residents complained.

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One elderly couple, Paul and Lupe de la Rosa, said a “coyote,” or immigrant smuggler, used to bring in carloads of immigrants who hid out in the neighborhood. The couple said children and cocaine users burned down four houses on the street earlier this year.

Gloria Farias, 37, a 20-year resident of the street, said shots were fired at the house next door to hers last week. In July, a barbecue party in her yard ended quickly when a car cruised slowly past with its headlights off.

“It was worse before,” Farias said. "(Police) used to barricade the streets.”


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