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Deputies recount split-second decision that may have saved life of child shot in head near Compton

Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies Art Gonzalez, Brian Reza and Sergio Jimenez (left to center right) discuss the efforts they took to save a 4-year-old boy who was shot in the head near Compton on Wednesday.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

As they responded to a shooting near Compton on Wednesday, three Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies came upon a heart-rending scene.

A 4-year-old boy lay inside a car, suffering from a gunshot wound to the head. He wasn’t moving or breathing.

Knowing the boy was in desperate need of medical attention, and unsure how long it might take an ambulance to respond, deputies Art Gonzalez, Brian Reza and Sergio Jimenez made a split-second decision and carried the victim to the nearest police cruiser.

Two of them raced to St. Francis Medical Center, following directions from a helicopter above, as Gonzalez cradled the child in his arms.

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“It was like we were reading each other’s thoughts and minds,” Reza said Thursday at a news conference. “It was instantaneous.”

Hospital officials said the deputies’ quick decision may have helped save the life of the child, who remains in critical condition after he was struck by a bullet meant for someone else.

The boy was shot shortly before noon Wednesday during what Sheriff’s Capt. Mike Thatcher described as a “violent dispute” between two groups in the 4600 block of Compton Boulevard. Thatcher said the incident was “gang-related” but declined to comment further on a motive for the shooting.

“They ran into each other, and it went boom from there,” Thatcher said of the two groups involved in the dispute.

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No one else was injured in the shooting, he said. The boy’s mother was driving her children through the neighborhood, and they were innocent bystanders caught in the gunfire, Thatcher said.

“Driving down the street, minding your own business, and then all of a sudden something like this happens,” he said. “It’s very tragic and it’s very instantaneous.”

Thatcher said the suspected shooter, described only as an adult male, has been arrested. He declined to identify the victim, the suspect or the gangs involved in the dispute, or say when or where the arrest took place.

Investigators believe five to six people were involved in the dispute, and Thatcher asked for the public’s help to identify other suspects. The man who was arrested is the only person believed to have fired a gun, Thatcher said.

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The deputies, who all have children of their own, said the sight of the wounded child deeply affected them.

“Being a father who has a 4-year-old himself, it’s hard not to imagine your own child sitting in that, and going, ‘Man, I could have just been driving home, and that could have happened to my kid,’” Reza said.

Gonzalez said the deputies made it from the shooting scene to the hospital in “about 90 seconds.”

Dr. Edward Kwon, an emergency room physician at St. Francis, said at Thursday’s news conference that the deputies’ quick thinking might have saved the child’s life and could help spare him from permanent injury.

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The boy was unconscious and not breathing on his own when the deputies arrived, according to Kwon, who said the bullet became lodged in the 4-year-old’s brain. Doctors were able to remove it, but Kwon declined to give a prognosis about the boy’s long-term health.

“I think that the officers did an incredible job,” Kwon said. “The quickness with which they arrived … was partially directly responsible for the child being able to make it to [another hospital] in order to have the definitive care.”

The child was transferred from St. Francis to another hospital, but Thatcher asked that the location not be revealed for the sake of his family’s privacy.

Thatcher said the family was on their way home when the shots rang out, adding that the victim’s mother was “in a fog” as to what happened on Wednesday.

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Jimenez, who is expecting a child soon, said the deputies had to wrestle with their own reactions and the need to move quickly when they discovered the wounded 4-year-old.

“I think the public, they see us as a uniform and that we don’t have any emotions,” Jimenez said. “Yeah, it affects us. But at the moment, when we arrived on scene, you have to just block that.”

james.queally@latimes.com

For more breaking crime and cops news in Southern California, follow me on Twitter: @JamesQueallyLAT

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