Buena Park Teen Slain Over a Plastic Pumpkin


A 17-year-old Buena Park boy died Tuesday after being shot by a homeowner apparently upset over the theft of a plastic light-up pumpkin that decorated the gunman’s frontyard, police said.

The shooter, 47-year-old Pete Tavita Solomona, was arrested and booked on suspicion of murder. Prosecutors are expected to decide today whether he will face homicide charges.

Until Solomona came out of his house waving a loaded .357 Taurus revolver, most saw him as a kindly neighbor and loving grandfather. And the young man he confessed to shooting, Brandon Ketsdever, was a popular high school athlete and fun-loving prankster.


Now the tragic shooting, which Solomona insists was accidental, has traumatized a normally quiet subdivision and posed disquieting questions for those trying to sort out what happened and why.

Neighbors described a chaotic scene Monday night in the neighborhood, less than a mile from Knott’s Berry Farm, after Solomona allegedly fired a shot into a Ford Escort carrying the victim and two other teens. The bullet, police said, struck the head of the Kennedy High School student, who was driving.

As his daughter raced toward the car and frantically attended to the boy’s head wound, Solomona froze in the middle of the street, visibly stunned, witnesses said.

“He was standing out there in a daze,” neighbor Marsha Long said. “He couldn’t believe what he had done. He kept saying, ‘It just went off, it just went off.’ ”

A distraught woman arrived at the scene, apparently being pulled along by one of the teens who had fled from the car, two witnesses said. “She kept saying, ‘That’s not my son. That’s not my son,’ ” neighbor Darren Scheidt said.

Solomona told police by phone minutes after the incident that he had shot the boy when his gun discharged accidentally, Buena Park Police Sgt. Chris Nunez said.


The shooting left residents in the neighborhood struggling to understand the violence.

“This neighborhood is going to take a while to recover,” Scheidt said. “I’ll be really surprised if any of the kids come out to trick-or-treat, if the parents let them.”

Brandon and his two friends had been circling the neighborhood in their car Monday evening, looking for decorations to pinch so they could leave them in the frontyards of friends as a prank, Nunez said.

Solomona told detectives he had noticed that his decoration was missing at 8:45 p.m. Monday and saw Ketsdever and two friends drive away from his home, police said. When the boys’ car returned a few minutes later, he left the house and approached them, police said. But one of the teens in the car said the confrontation occurred right after they took the 3 1/2-foot decoration.

Solomona grabbed his revolver and confronted the teens as they pulled up opposite the house, the suspect told police. The gun was legally registered to Solomona.

The man allegedly shouted at the teens: “What the hell are you doing? Why’d you steal my pumpkin?” according to one of the teenagers in the car.

Victim’s Friends Cry, ‘What Have You Done?’

One shot was fired, striking Brandon in the head. The two teenage passengers dashed from the car screaming, “You killed him! What have you done?” witnesses said. Solomona’s daughter tried to help the wounded boy, urging him to stay alive. “Stay with it, hold on,” witnesses said she implored.


Paramedics treated Brandon, but he died at UCI Medical Center in Orange at 3:12 a.m., police said.

One of the other teenage boys, who was sitting in the passenger seat when Brandon was shot, also suffered a slight injury to his arm. Police said they did not know whether he was hit by flying glass or bullet fragments, but that the boy received treatment at a La Palma hospital for a minor cut, police said.

On Tuesday morning, family and friends grieved over their loss. “Our family is devastated over the senseless death of our son,” said Brandon’s father, Jon Ketsdever. “We want Brandon to be remembered as the funny and compassionate son, brother and friend we know him as.”

Friends of the boy, known widely for his sense of humor, laid a bouquet of flowers by the bloodstained roadside where he was shot. Brandon, they recalled, was a gifted athlete, representing his school in football, track and water polo.

“He was just so funny, he was so awesome,” said 17-year-old Christie Epperly as she choked back tears. “He was one of those people who would totally make your day. Just seeing him smile, that’s what you look forward to.”

Other friends noted how trivial an argument had ended so tragically.

“It was over a pumpkin,” 17-year-old Simeon Nichols said in disgust. “I would have bought the guy a pumpkin.”


Similar decorations retail locally for $10 to $35.

Students at Kennedy High School talked with grief counselors, who arrived at the school early Tuesday morning. “There’s a very somber mood this morning,” Principal Norie Atherton said.

Meanwhile, residents said they were horrified that the neighbor they had known for years as a quiet family man may now faced murder charges. Many said they had never even heard him raise his voice at his own children, and could not believe that he could have fired his revolver intentionally.

“For him to do it out of malice, I can’t believe that,” Scheidt said. “For a plastic pumpkin. He was trying to scare them.”

Long, who moved into the area three years ago, about the same time as Solomona, agreed. “He’s a nice guy. He’s got adult kids, two sons and one daughter, and at least one grandchild. . . . I think the adrenaline got to him. everything happened too fast. It was an accident, an unfortunate accident.”

Decorations Were Known to Disappear

Though he kept much to himself, neighbors described Solomona as a family man who doted on his three adult children and his grandchild. He fit the local area well.

“This is an all-family neighborhood,” Scheidt said. “Ninety percent go to the same church, and all the kids play together. That’s why we moved here.”


Long watched Solomona put out the decoration Saturday, she said. But many others in the area had decided to wait for Halloween before decorating their houses because it was well-known that children and teenagers would steal them as pranks, Long said.

“Things have been missing the last couple of weeks and people have been waiting to put out the decorations until Halloween because they get stolen,” she said.

Neighbors described Solomona as a deeply religious man who could often be seen tinkering outside with his car or tending to his lawn. Solomona was caring for his garden, watering the grass, when Long left her house Monday evening to pick up her children.

“When I came back to him, he was standing in the street saying, ‘It just went off,’ ” Long recalled. “It’s really sad.”

Experts said a key to the charges Solomona faces will be whether he planned to fire at the car and whether he felt his life was in jeopardy. Police said Solomona’s actions were unreasonable.

“For someone to arm himself with a weapon . . . it’s very unbalanced,” Nunez said. “You have to use force that is reasonable. You’re talking about a loss of minor property.”


The mother of one of two passengers in the car agreed.

“I don’t think a rational mature adult would take a loaded handgun out to the street unless he intended to use it,” said the mother, who asked not to be identified.

Her 17-year-old son added: “It wasn’t by accident.”


Times staff writer Matthew Ebnet contributed to this report.


A Fatal Encounter

A 17-year-old died Tuesday morning after he was allegedly shot by a Buena Park homeowner who said the boy stole a Halloween pumpkin from his front yard, police said.

Source: Buena Park Police Department