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Shooting Kills Boy Playing in Front Yard : Violence: An 8-year-old at a baby shower dies after being struck in the head by a bullet from a passing car.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the latest in a string of senseless drive-by shootings of children, an 8-year-old Ontario boy was shot in the head and killed at a baby shower on the edge of Compton, Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies said.

Victor Neal was playing football with other children in the front yard of a family friend’s house in East Rancho Dominguez Saturday evening when a bullet fired at a group of adult party-goers standing about 10 feet away pierced the boy’s skull, authorities said.

He died about seven hours later, at 2 a.m. Sunday.

The killer fired a handgun from a white 1989 Ford Escort with tinted windows that was driven by another man, Deputy Carrie Stuart said.

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The driver and gunman are suspected Latino gang members, Stuart said.

According to witnesses, the two men drove by the party in the 14000 block of South Lime Avenue. They apparently noticed a small group of men talking just outside the front gate of the home, then doubled back around a small traffic island that divides the residential street and drove toward the house.

The gunman leaned out the front passenger window and fired one round into the small crowd, Stuart said.

The bullet passed completely through the loose folds of a leather jacket worn by another 8-year-old boy as he was diving for cover and hit Victor in the forehead, authorities said.

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“We were just about to sit down to eat dinner, and I heard what sounded like a firecracker,” said 28-year-old Andrea Brown, who hosted the baby shower for her sister. The women were inside at the party as the men and older children were in the front yard.

“I heard a scream and someone was saying: ‘A kid is down! A kid is down!’ ”

Standing on her carefully mowed front lawn, Brown added: “It makes no sense. We were just having a baby shower and now an 8-year-old is gone.”

“I didn’t even know he was out here,” said 13-year-old Antwoin Wilkins, a neighbor who attended the party. “We were just outside talking and, before I knew it, [Victor] was down.

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“They took an innocent boy’s life,” Antwoin muttered as he stared at a patch of caked blood on the front lawn.

Minutes before Victor was shot, Stuart said, gunshots were reported about a block away from the Brown house. But “it’s too soon to tell” whether the incidents could be related, Stuart said.

Since the Sept. 17 ambush shooting of 3-year-old Stephanie Kuhen in a dead-end alley that was infested with gang members--a killing that outraged the nation--at least seven children have been killed or wounded in the area, many by suspected gang members.

Reports of gunfire in the night were becoming more frequent in the middle-class East Rancho Dominguez neighborhood where she grew up, Brown said.

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“We’ve been here 21 years,” she said. “Most of the people we knew as kids have moved out. It’s still pretty quiet around here, but sometimes you can hear screaming in the night or people fighting in the alley behind our house.”

As Victor lay critically wounded, Brown said, she and her family held a seven-hour vigil at the hospital. When they returned home early Sunday, she said, the family feared another shooting, because “we could see cars driving by the house real slowly,” she said. “Those of us that could sleep, slept on the floor. Is this what it’s going to be like?”

Brown said she grew close to Victor because her brother, David, 32, has been dating Victor’s mother, Stephanie, for several years. David Brown often brought Neal and her three sons from Ontario to his sister’s home in East Rancho Dominguez, she said.

“We accepted them like they were family,” she said. “My three kids thought of Victor as their cousin,” and she knew him as “such a beautiful boy” with “the most gorgeous eyes.”

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The fact that he was playing football with the other children when he was shot was no surprise, said a tearful David Brown. “He loved his sports,” he said. “He played a lot of football and basketball.

His two younger brothers, Stefan, 6, and Devon, 2, “looked up to him,” said David Brown, his voice cracking.

"[Stefan] couldn’t play without him. He used to sit and stare at the front gate, waiting for Victor to come home from school.

“I’m sure he is going to keep on staring at that gate. It’ll take a while for this to sink in for him.”

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