4-year-old boy is killed and a man is wounded in Altadena shooting

Investigators work Wednesday in the 300 block of Figueroa Drive in Altadena, where a 4-year-old boy was killed and a 27-year-old man was wounded in a drive-by shooting.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

In moments, everything changed for one family.

Four-year-old Salvador Esparza III had just stepped onto the front porch of an Altadena home late Tuesday when the shooting started. He was rushed to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

A 27-year-old man was also wounded, but was expected to survive.

As the normally quiet neighborhood tried to process the killing, authorities Wednesday night said that neither the child nor the 27-year-old, who was visiting the home in the 300 block of Figueroa Drive, appeared to be the targets of the shooting.


Instead, the gunman may have been aiming for people he’d argued with about two hours before the 10:30 p.m. shooting, said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department homicide Lt. John Corina. One of them was the boyfriend of Salvador’s mother. The group was hanging out on the front porch, and included the person authorities believe was the intended target.

“It was the weekend, people had been drinking,” Corina said.

The argument spilled into the street and people had to be separated, Corina said. Investigators believe the gunman, who may live in the neighborhood, came back in a dark-colored sedan, jumped out and fired at least 13 shots.

The gunman has not been located, but Corina said that “people are stepping forward, they’re concerned about what happened.”

The boy’s mother is grieving over the loss of her son, Corina said. “Her 4-year-old son just got killed,” he said. “She is very upset.”

For most of Wednesday afternoon, investigators kept the area around Olive Avenue and Figueroa Drive cordoned off as authorities continued to gather clues. Yellow evidence markers were scattered in the street outside the home where the shooting occurred.

Maria Elias, a cousin of the boy’s father, also lives in the neighborhood. She said the area is safe and she often lets her children play outside. Salvador, she said, was also known as “Chavita.” Others said the child climbed the trees in the home’s front yard and liked to play soccer.

“It’s not fair,” Elias said. “It’s one little boy.”

Alberto Rodriguez, 21, grew up a few houses down from the shooting and said it is “a rarity.”

“There’s really nothing going on,” he said, adding that most neighbors know each other.

The boy and the man were on the porch of a home in the 300 block of Figueroa Drive when a gunman drove up about 10:30 p.m. and fired shots, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff ’s Department homicide Lt. John Corina.  

Rodriguez said he was in his kitchen Tuesday night when he heard popping noises that he thought were fireworks.

“I just shook it off, and right after, there was screaming,” he said.

Moments later, he said, he heard helicopters and squad cars responding to the scene.

“It’s a little eye-opening because you never know what’s out there,” he said.

On Wednesday night, people began placing flowers and candles outside the chain-link fence of the Altadena home. Donna Bernal brought a white candle and said a prayer with her sister and her niece.

“We used to see him playing in the yard,” she said, adding that she has lived in the area her entire life. “We hear the occasional gunshot, but nothing like this.”

Shortly before sunset, a family friend walked outside the home and said that the child’s mother would not be speaking to reporters.

Veronica Rodriguez said that the mother wanted people to know that her son “was a happy child.”

“He loved to play, he loved to laugh,” Rodriguez said. “Which is senseless that he had to pass the way he did.”

A GoFundMe page was created for Salvador’s family.

Anyone with details about the shooting is urged to call the Sheriff’s Department’s Homicide Bureau at (323) 890-5500.

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9:36 p.m. This article was updated with new details from authorities and information from the scene.

12:46 p.m.: This article was updated with new details from the boy’s second cousin.

10:56 a.m.: This article was updated with the boy’s identity.

10:15 a.m.: This article was updated with new details from a neighbor.

This article was originally published at 5:26 a.m.