Family Clings to Hope for Boy Wounded on Freeway : Violence: They keep vigil for 12-year-old who dreamed of soccer career. How, they ask, could this have happened?

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The nights drift into day and then into night again for Richard Bautista's family and friends.

They come to the hospital and sit in the lobby outside the intensive care unit, keeping a vigil for this 12-year-old boy who often dreamed of glory on the athletic field.

Now he lies in critical condition at the Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center with a gunshot wound through his brain, another victim of the urban violence that seems to reach almost everywhere these days, from gang-infested alleyways to broad highways leading to the safer climes of suburbia.

How could this have happened? How could someone on the freeway have chosen to open fire on the car that was carrying Richard Bautista home to Whittier after a Dodger game last Friday night?

Richard's uncle, Albert Orozco, takes his turn at the hospital like other members of the family, hoping for the best, hoping the young boy will somehow make it.

He, too, asks himself about the sense of this. He, too, has no answers. When he thinks of the attack, he thinks bitterly of cowards, of people who care nothing about human life.

"It's just not right," he said. "All we want is for Richard to come back to us."

Last Friday night, a yellow van was on the Harbor Freeway. On the same night, Richard's 18-year-old cousin, Cynthia Ibarra, was driving the boy home from the ballgame on one of their rare outings together.

The Dodgers had beaten the Padres 6-5. In the car, they were talking of one of Richard's favorite subjects, his desire to become a member of the Olympic soccer team. Ibarra's friend Jesus Magdaleno was in the back seat of the car.

Then the driver of the yellow van flicked on his bright lights and seconds later began firing through the rear windshield of Ibarra's car. Richard slumped forward in the seat.

"It hurts," the boy moaned. "Just call my dad. It hurts. Call my dad."

Then he was silent.

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Gold and red roses were on Richard's desk Tuesday morning at Whittier's St. Gregory the Great Elementary School, the stems wrapped in aluminum foil. Beside them was a plastic Dodger batting helmet, the kind they give away to young fans at special games.

The day before there had been a pink rose on Richard's desk, sent by two little girls who also attend St. Gregory. Beside it was a note: "May God be with you in your pain and suffering. Be strong. Fight 'til the end and never give up! Have faith in the Lord that he will guide you during your days on earth. We love and miss you."

The shooting of Richard has had a traumatic effect on the little school, nestled in the middle-class neighborhoods that make up Whittier. Not only did the Bautistas send two of their three sons here, they have also been active in the church next door. They have run booths at fund-raisers. Richard has been an altar boy.

Students at the school Tuesday were preparing a get-well banner; everyone was planning to sign. Plans were in the works to collect money for a soccer ball that, on an optimistic note, is to be presented to Richard when he is taken out of the intensive care unit.

For all that, there was still concern about delicate psyches. On Monday, the first day of school since the shooting, a counselor was brought to the school to help the children through what for many was their first real encounter with violence.

In the course of the day Tuesday, teachers and friends talked about Richard. Sister Sheila Reen, the school principal, said she had known him since first grade. She recalled the time one of the younger children had become ill during church services. She said Richard alone went to the restroom and brought back paper towels to help the student.

"That's not something most kids would do," she said.

One of Richard's close friends, Ralph Munoz, talked of being a teammate on the soccer team, the Whittier Goldstars. He spoke admiringly of how Richard played the game, of how good he was on the field.

"His dream was to be the most famous soccer player in the world," he said. "He'll pull through 100%. I know that."

The vigil at the hospital goes on. Hospital officials said that on Monday night, Richard opened his eyes and squeezed a hand, giving his family reason to hope.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the gunman in the yellow van. A fund has been set up for the boy through St. Gregory the Great School.

And now all there is to do is wait. And pray.

"Our hands are tied," said Ibarra. "We've done all we can."

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