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Father Calls 3 Slain Boys ‘My Life’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Joseph--better known as “Joey"--was a creative, starry-eyed 11-year-old, who dreamed about becoming a film director someday, so good a student that he consistently made the honor roll or principal’s list.

Michael, or “Mikie,” was the popular, socially adroit one, a superb athlete and budding Casanova who, before turning 8 earlier this month, had already boasted of having several girlfriends--simultaneously.

Christopher, the 5-year-old who went by his full name, had just begun kindergarten this semester. A natural comedian who often had family members clutching their stomachs in laughter, he looked up to his big brothers, Joey and Mikie, as his ultimate heroes and tagged along everywhere they went.

On Monday, recounting the lives of his sons, prominent Northridge rheumatologist Xavier J. Caro occasionally broke into tears in his first interview since the boys were found fatally shot at their Santa Rosa Valley home a week ago.

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Sitting near the soothing trickle of a fountain in the ivy-covered courtyard of Padre Serra Church in Camarillo, their family parish and the site of Joey’s first communion, Caro declined to talk about his wife and the boys’ mother, Socorro “Cora” Caro, who was also shot once in the head but survived.

His onetime office manager, 42-year-old Cora is recovering in a Thousand Oaks hospital. She is the only suspect in her sons’ killing, and she is believed to have attempted suicide after shooting them.

“It’s beyond imagination. It’s incomprehensible,” Xavier Caro said, searching for the right words to describe the feelings of a man who still remembers being an orphan and living in a foster home before he was adopted by an Imperial Valley couple at age 4.

“Family was everything to me,” Caro said. “My children were my life. They were my light, my heroes.”

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They had such a “beautiful life ahead of them,” the 52-year-old Caro added.

The grieving father said he finds strength to go on because of his 13-month-old son, Gabriel, who was spared in the shootings. “He is the last flame,” Caro said. The infant is living with a family member for the time being because Caro, too pained to return to the crime scene, is staying at a hotel along with his brother, Raul of El Centro, and childhood best friend, H.V. Shultz of Brawley in Imperial County.

House Will Be Sold

“I’ll never move back into that house,” Caro said. “We’re going to clean it out and sell it.” The memories of his sons--whose bodies he told authorities he discovered about 11:20 p.m. Nov. 22 in their beds, with bullet wounds in their heads--is more than he can handle, he said.

When Gabriel is old enough to understand, Caro plans to show him family videos and photos of his big brothers and tell him stories about who they were and what they could have been. “As [Gabriel] becomes more and more aware, I’ll answer his questions gradually,” Caro said.

Like any adoring father, Caro was proud of his sons. Besides being good students, the older two gamely strove to overcome physical difficulties that might have held other children back.

With uncommon candor and a precision indicative of his profession, Dr. Caro explained how Joey had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder at an early age and had a difficult childhood. Despite having learned to read at age 3 1/2, he had been expelled from three preschools.

It was out of concern for Joey’s education that he and Cora decided to move away from Granada Hills, where they still own a house.

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His wife believed that the schools there “weren’t tolerant enough for people who didn’t fit in,” Caro said.

They searched “high and wide” for a new community and finally settled on the Santa Rosa Valley in 1993 because of its excellent elementary school, Caro said.

Joey was a very imaginative child who astonished his father with the unusual and colorful way in which he saw the world. When Joey was 4, the family went to Sea World, Caro said. Eating Cheetos in front of an aquarium filled with yellow coral, little Joey pointed and said: “Look Daddy, a Cheeto tree!” Caro recalled.

“It may not seem like much to you, but I wanted to enroll him in college the next day,” Caro said.

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When Joey was about 6 or 7, he was looking up at sea gulls swooping through the air one day when he turned and said, “Dad, do you think that’s where George Lucas got his idea for the Star Fighter dogfights?”

In the last couple of years, Joey’s hyperactivity had markedly improved through biofeedback therapy, Caro said. He had developed a love for classical music and movies, especially the “Star Wars” series. “He wanted to be a movie director. His heroes were George Lucas and Steven Spielberg,” Caro said.

Caro got choked up and then collected himself, as he told about the books he recently bought to help him give Joey “the talk"--books about “the birds and the bees” that they never got to share.

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He was very affectionate and liked to hug. “I’d like to think that sprang from home,” Caro said. “I kissed my children every single day of their lives that I was near them.”

When Joey clamored to see the latest “Star Wars” movie on its opening day, Caro gave in. The busy doctor found himself standing in line for hours for tickets--but brought a medical journal along to read and a cellular phone to do some work.

Joey, “the leader of the pack” of the four brothers, was often referred to as “my hero” by Mikie, Caro said.

Unlike Joey, who was sometimes an “outsider” and had few friends, Mikie was the good-looking Mr. Popularity. “All the kids liked him,” Caro said.

A Good Sport

Mikie was athletically gifted, but also a good sport. Caro recalls how, during a highly competitive basketball game in which Mikie was the star, he tried to give the ball to a girl on his team who was a terrible player, just so she could participate. “Winning to him was not what was important. It was being a good person,” Caro said.

Mikie also had an uncanny ear for music and easily memorized tunes, even though he was born with a defect that made his right ear one-third its normal size and closed off, which made him hard of hearing on that side.

He talked about becoming a rock star, but recently changed his mind and decided to be a scientist. And he surprised his father by announcing that he was thinking about marrying a little girl named Marie. Caro was flabbergasted when Mikie then mentioned at least two other girlfriends.

“I was going to have ‘the talk’ with him much earlier,” Caro said with a chuckle.

Little Christopher loved trains and anything Pokemon--in fact, all three brothers were wild about Pokemon, Caro said. The three boys and their parents recently saw the movie together, after they “ditched” school and work, he said.

Already developing a dry wit, the 5-year-old recently startled his soccer coach and bystanders when--just before kicking a ball that was rolled to him during practice--he deadpanned: “To be or not to be, that is the question.”

“That was just Christopher,” Caro said. “He was always cracking us up.”

Christopher loved school so much that he would be disappointed when he didn’t have homework, Caro said. The 5-year-old also liked to tag along with his older brothers everywhere, whether at sporting events or just playing around the house.

“The three of them were like monkeys,” Caro said. Wherever one went, the other two followed. “They did everything together.”

The boys were especially close, Caro said, because he always instructed them to stick together.

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“After Mom and Dad are gone, you’re only going to have each other,” Caro told his boys. He also told them, “Don’t forget to kiss your Daddy every day, ‘cause you’ll never know when you might not see him again.”

When the boys wrestled together, there were unspoken rules that Joey, the oldest and largest, would be the most gentle, and Christopher, the little one, got away with the most.

Christopher was especially close to Mikie--they shared bunk beds--and the two had surgeries on the same day in June for their flat feet, Caro said.

The three brothers will be buried together Wednesday, with Mikie and Christopher in bunk-bed-like coffins, one on top of the other, and Joey’s coffin next to theirs. “So they’ll be close together,” Caro said.

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Joey will be buried with his First Communion Bible and the “Harry Potter” book he had been reading. Mikie will be buried with a coin collection, symbolic of the boy’s almost preternatural ability to find money wherever he went. Christopher loved his pillow, but as his was damaged in the shooting, he will be buried with a similar one, along with his toy trains, Caro said.

He has reserved an empty plot next to the boys for himself, Caro said.

A public rosary vigil is scheduled at 7 tonight at Padre Serra Church at 5205 Upland Road in Camarillo. The funeral Mass will be at the church at 10 a.m. Wednesday, to be followed by burial at Conejo Mountain Memorial Park in Camarillo.

A memorial fund benefiting the library of Santa Rosa Elementary School, which all three boys attended, has been set up. The address is: Caro Memorial Fund, c/o Santa Rosa Elementary School, 13282 Santa Rosa Road, Camarillo CA 93012.


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