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Lancaster Teen Fatally Shot by Friend : Police Say Youth Pointed Rifle at Fred Gajeta, 17, in Jest; Relatives and Acquaintances Express Shock

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A teen-age boy was shot in the head by a close friend who apparently pointed a rifle at him in jest late Saturday, authorities said.

Fred Gajeta, 17, was pronounced dead at Antelope Valley Hospital Medical Center at 12:45 a.m Sunday. He was believed to be talking on the phone at his friend’s home when he was fatally wounded.

Authorities said the 17-year-old friend, whose name was withheld because of his age, apparently grabbed a rifle from a room at his parent’s house in Lancaster and jokingly pointed it at Gajeta. When Gajeta tried to shove the gun away, it went off and a round struck him in the head, authorities said.

The alleged shooter was in custody Sunday facing murder charges, said Deputy Sheriff Carrie Stuart, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

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Relatives and friends of the two teen-agers were left numb.

“I just can’t believe it happened,” the suspect’s father said. “They’re like brothers. They’re best friends.”

He said the two teen-agers were supposed to accompany him, his wife and oldest son to a Catholic prayer gathering at a Chatsworth home Saturday night, but the boys decided to stay behind.

“They stayed and I can’t believe it,” the father said.

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“They’re always watching TV or videos.”

The suspect, held at juvenile detention hall in Sylmar, was in shock, his father said.

“He told us to tell the family he was sorry. It was an accident. I know it ain’t murder.”

J. P. Jacolbia, 17, a friend of both youths, said he thought the suspect might have been simply showing Gajeta the rifle.

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“They were always together. It was all a mistake,” Jacolbia said. “They were the people you’d least expect to do [something] like that. They don’t play around like that.”

Stuart said the shooting remains under investigation. It will be up to the district attorney’s office to determine whether to file murder charges, she said.

“It appears it’s just two friends on a Saturday night, hanging out,” she said. “It doesn’t appear to be, ‘Let’s go kill some people or shoot out some lights.’ ”

There were no preliminary signs that the teen-agers were involved with gangs or had been in trouble with the law, she said.

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The suspect’s father said he originally got the rifle for family protection but kept it in a closet and never used it.

“I can’t go to the parents,” he said. “I don’t know what to say.”

The Gajeta family could not be reached for comment.

Friends said Gajeta was a junior at Desert Winds High School. The suspect attends Quartz Hill High School.

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On Sunday afternoon, friends gathered outside the suspect’s home. At times they were solemn; some cried and hugged. At other times, they smiled or chuckled as they reminisced about their two buddies.

“He was fun,” the suspect’s brother said of Gajeta. “He made jokes about everything.”

The two teen-agers were easygoing, their friends said. Besides watching movies, they enjoyed playing pool, hanging around at a local park or at friends’ homes, and listening to R & B music and singing along to oldies from the 1970s and 1980s.

“Once you got to know him, he was all loud,” Adrian Soliven, also 17, said with a smile, referring to Gajeta.

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A family photograph showed Gajeta smiling and lying across the laps of several friends, hamming it up for the camera.

Virtually everyone said they felt the way the suspect’s aunt did. She came to the door of the house to briefly talk about the tragedy.

“It’s a very difficult situation,” she said. “All our hearts go out to the young boy and his family.”

It was not the first time these teen-agers had mourned a friend killed in a shooting that was likely accidental. Earlier this year, a boy they knew died when a gun he was playing with discharged.

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They thought their buddies had learned from that experience to be careful with guns.

“After that, we didn’t think anyone else would fool around,” Soliven said.


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