All little Joshua Montes wanted was to be outside so he could play, his big sister recalled.
Ana Montes, 12, had watched her 22-month-old brother go out the back door of their family’s house in the 1200 block of East 55th Street in Los Angeles on Monday night, carried by an uncle. Then, as she described it, she heard a familiar sound: the crack of gunfire.
Deadly violence had settled once again on a weary, gang-plagued South L.A. neighborhood, claiming another innocent life.
The gunfire hit Joshua and his uncle, Josefat Canchola, who may still have been holding the toddler in his arms. Both were struck in the head about 8:30 p.m. and taken to a hospital. Joshua died soon afterward, while Canchola remains in critical condition, family and authorities said.
Neither Joshua nor his uncle, who is in his 30s, was targeted for attack, investigators say. The bullets may have been intended for someone else.
The gunfire came from nearby Hooper Avenue, about 40 yards from the spot where Joshua and his uncle were playing in the family’s backyard, a police source said. Investigators found shell casings on the street and bullet holes in a narrow fence that wraps around the Montes’ yard. They believe bullets penetrated the fence before striking both victims. The neighborhood is about four miles south of downtown Los Angeles.
On Tuesday morning, the boy’s family huddled together in their spare, green-walled living room, somber and tearful, trying to make sense of it all. Because nobody in her family speaks English fluently and because her mother and father were overcome by grief, Ana translated. She said none of the people in the house saw what happened; they only heard the gunfire and raced to the backyard, where they found her brother and uncle on the ground.
Ana described Joshua as a happy little boy whom family members had lovingly dubbed “Pelon,” Spanish for bald, because for a long time he had little hair. Joshua was a good walker and was just beginning to speak. “He was talking a little bit,” Ana said. “He calls every person ‘Mom’ because he knows everyone listens to him when he says that.”
He also had a tight bond with his uncle, a garment worker who lived in the home. “Every time my uncle came home from work, little Joshua would come running toward him,” Ana said, choking up. “They were very close.”
Joshua’s death was discussed at a City Council meeting Tuesday. “This was a baby,” said Councilwoman Jan Perry, who represents the neighborhood where the killing occurred. “A baby.”
Perry later said police and nonprofit groups have worked successfully to cut gang activity in the area, but she noted that “there’s no accounting for someone who has no regard for human life.”
The shooting brings more fear to an area already wrestling with violent crime. A neighbor who refused to give her name because she said she feared reprisals from gang members described a chaotic scene in the neighborhood Monday night. After the gunfire, a man who the neighbor said was Joshua’s father, Juan Montes, came running into the street, carrying his son and screaming for help. Dozens of neighbors emerged from their homes, but it was too late, Joshua “was not moving anymore.”
The woman and several other neighbors, who also would not give their names out of fear, said the shooting was the third in the neighborhood in the last month. “This is one scary place,” the woman said. “I want to move away as soon as I can.”
More than 45 homicides have occurred within one mile of the Montes family home since Jan. 1, 2007, according to The Times’ Homicide Report.
Times staff writer Kate Linthicum contributed to this report.