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Memory of Aiden Leos to be kept alive at O.C. Zoo

Joanna Cloonan and daughter Alexis Cloonan stant in front of a portrait of Aiden Leos.
With a portrait of her late 6-year-old son, Aiden Leos, behind her, Joanna Cloonan holds a teddy bear alongside her teenage daughter, Alexis Cloonan, during an event discussing the plans to dedicate a plaque to Aiden at a new $9.5-million, 2-acre complex with four habitat enclosures for large cats at the Orange County Zoo at Irvine Regional Park in Orange on Monday.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Orange County officials announced plans Monday for a plaque and dedication at the county zoo in memory of Aiden Leos inside Irvine Regional Park in the city of Orange.

Aiden, a 6-year-old boy who lived in Costa Mesa, died in an apparent road-rage incident on May 21 when a gunman opened fire into the back seat of his mother’s vehicle on the 55 Freeway in Orange.

The plaque is expected to be unveiled in conjunction with the opening of a new large mammal exhibit at the beginning of next year.

The partnership with O.C. Parks staff came together after photos surfaced of Aiden enjoying himself at the Orange County Zoo. A photo of him in front of the mountain lion exhibit was included in a slideshow at his memorial service.

“The idea behind what we’re doing here today is a plaque in memory of Aiden, who galvanized the community to find not just his killer, but now we take it bigger and try to find the perpetrators of many other violent crimes throughout Orange County,” Orange County Supervisor Donald Wagner said. “Because what the community said upon learning the news of the shooting of Aiden was it’s not going to happen here. It’s not going to stand here. You’re not going to come to Orange County and do these crimes.

“Today, we want to celebrate Aiden’s memory, announce the coming facility with the plaque and dedication to Aiden, and say to any other victims of violent crimes in Orange County, this community has your back, and we are going to come for the people who committed the crime, we are going to hunt them down and bring them to justice.”

Orange County Supervisor Donald Wagner spoke about plans to dedicate a plaque for Aiden Leos at the O.C. Zoo.
Orange County Supervisor Donald Wagner speaks about plans to dedicate a plaque for Leos at a new large mammal exhibit at the Orange County Zoo at Irvine Regional Park in Orange on Monday. Behind Wagner, from left, are family spokesperson Carla Lacy, Leos’ mother, Joanna Cloonan, and Leos’ sister, Alexis Cloonan.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Marcus Anthony Eriz and Wynne Lee were arrested in Costa Mesa in connection with Aiden’s death. They are scheduled to be arraigned in court on Friday.

Eriz was charged with murder and discharging a firearm at an occupied vehicle, while Wynne, who authorities said was the driver of the suspected vehicle, has been charged with accessory after the fact and a misdemeanor for concealing a firearm in a vehicle.

In attendance at the Orange County Zoo on Monday were Aiden’s mother, Joanna Cloonan, his older sister, Alexis Cloonan, and Alexis’ grandmother, Carla Lacy.

Carla Lacy speaks during during event discussing the plans to dedicate a plaque for Aiden Leos at the O.C. Zoo on Monday.
Family spokesperson Carla Lacy speaks during during event discussing the plans to dedicate a plaque for Aiden Leos at the O.C. Zoo on Monday. Orange County Supervisor Donald Wagner, second from left, also spoke at the event. Leos’ mother, Joanna Cloonan, is second from right and Leos’ sister, Alexis Cloonan, is at right.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Lacy, who spoke on behalf of the family, shared what made the zoo a special place to honor Aiden.

“We want to take this moment and allow it to be a joyous occasion, to honor Aiden’s spirit of kindness and graciousness,” Lacy said. “I can’t think of a better place than here at Irvine Regional Park, where he enjoyed many visits with his family.”

The new large mammal exhibit, estimated to cost about $9.5 million, will encompass about 2 acres and feature four habitats. Rick De Jong, the project manager, said it is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2022.

“It’s great,” Orange County Zoo manager Donald Zeigler said of the decision to honor Aiden at the site. “O.C. Zoo is a county facility, and we’re here to provide a service to the public, and children just like Aiden are here every day, and they love the service that we provide them, and the enjoyment and the education.

“It’s amazing that [Aiden] was here. That one picture that came up, even before they decided to do this, that was the picture they posted of Aiden, and it was at the zoo.”

A new complex with four habitat enclosures for large mammals is under construction at the O.C. Zoo.
Orange County Supervisor Donald Wagner spoke at an event discussing the plans to dedicate a plaque for Aiden Leos at a new $9.5-million, 2-acre complex with four habitat enclosures for large cats, like mountain lions, at the Orange County Zoo at Irvine Regional Park in Orange on Monday.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Wagner said he has been inspired by the strength shown by Aiden’s family under trying circumstances.

“It seems to me it’s a very symbiotic relationship because they’ve told me how much strength they’ve gotten from the community, and just the outpouring of not just financial support, obviously, but the emotional support even more importantly, and so they’ve taken great strength from the community, which they’ve shared with me,” Wagner said.

“In response, I would say I personally, and I think many in the community, have taken great comfort in their strength under these trying circumstances and their dedication to keeping the memory of Aiden alive.”

Joanna Cloonan, mother of Costa Mesa 6-year-old Aiden Leos, holds a teddy bear.
Joanna Cloonan, mother of Costa Mesa 6-year-old Aiden Leos, holds a teddy bear as she listens alongside her teenage daughter Alexis Cloonan, right, during an event discussing the plans to dedicate a plaque for her son at a new large mammal exhibit at the O.C. Zoo.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

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