After the shooting, 16-year-old Nelli Rodriguez sat in the car, palms up, looking at her arms.
There were two bullet wounds in her forearm. She pressed her hands together. Then she squeezed her arms between her knees and waited for the ambulance.
A family friend, Rafael Rivera, 33, lay near her on the sidewalk. The shooter had come up on a bicycle as Rivera and Nelli were preparing to drive away. It was about 11:40 a.m. Saturday, March 17, at the intersection of East 31st Street and Stanford Avenue in South Central Los Angeles. (See entry below)
During the shooting, Nelli had screamed twice. After that, she made no almost no sound, though her eyes remained open. When the paramedics lifted her, she uttered a small sigh.
Her mother, Leobarda Garcia, knows all this because she made a point to, she said. She questioned everyone, hungry for details of her daughter's last moments.
Garcia was at work when Nelli was shot. Only sometime after the shooting, when the family was gathered at California Hospital, did Garcia learn that Nelli's primary wounds were not in her arm.
Two bullets also had torn through her chest. They were barely visible, and did not bleed externally. Probably, Nelli herself never knew she had them, Garcia said.
Hours passed at the hospital. Garcia was allowed in the room once, and then a second time. She could barely look. Nelli was on a ventilator, her body swollen. "She always had this very thin face," her mother said. "But her face was so big."
The mother tried to go in a third time early Sunday morning, but found she couldn't bear it.
On Monday, a day after her daughter's death, Garcia sat in the living room of the family's home, surrounded by relatives. She was on the floor, wrapped in blankets, eyes wide, hair pulled back in a haphazard knot. The room was small, with almost no other furniture except some metal folding chairs. There were holes in the plaster, a calendar and Christmas tinsel decorating the walls, a patch of dirt and some old mattresses in the yard.
For two days, the mother hadn't slept at all. Then, early Monday morning, she briefly drifted off, she said.
She dreamed that Nelli was with her, healthy and whole, and felt a deep contentment. "Then I woke up, and she wasn't here," she said.