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Outrage grows over killing of baby boy; officials expected to offer $50,000 reward

September 29, 2009 |  7:13 am

Infant

The Los Angeles City Council is expected to offer a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those who killed a baby boy in Van Nuys over the weekend.

Councilman Tony Cardenas, who represents the district, is seeking the reward as outrage over the baby's killing continued to grow. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa asked for the public's help in bringing the killers to justice, calling the shooting an "obscene and unspeakable tragedy."

Marlene Ramirez and Frank Garcia didn't have a lot, but they were devoted to their 4-month-old son, Andrew, relatives said Monday. "He was their life," said Veronica Munoz, Ramirez's cousin.

On Monday, Garcia, 21, a warehouse worker, and Ramirez, 18, were making funeral arrangements for their baby, a day after he was killed and two others were wounded in what police say was a gang-related shooting in Van Nuys.

The killing happened about 1 a.m. Sunday in the 14300 block of Kittridge Street as the young couple prepared to drive home from a friend's baptismal celebration, Los Angeles police said.

Two unidentified male suspects remained at large and were last seen fleeing on foot. One was described as 18-to-22 years old and about 5-foot-9 with a shaved head. The other is about 5-foot-5 and weighs about 200 pounds, police said.

Witnesses spotted a brown pickup filled with recyclables leaving the area shortly after the shooting. Police said the vehicle could be linked to the crime.

The family's Saturday evening had started out happily at the baptismal party at the Bernardi Multipurpose Center on Tyrone Avenue. After leaving the party about midnight, they agreed to drop off Anna Contreras, 28, a friend who lived nearby, before driving to their North Hollywood home, Munoz said.

Andrew had begun fussing, Munoz said her cousin told her, and the couple parked their car outside Contreras' house so that Contreras could give him a bottle. Garcia got out of the car and was chatting with friends when two men approached the group on foot and a confrontation took place, Munoz said.

Police said the suspects fired six rounds from a shotgun, striking Contreras and baby Andrew in the head. They also hit Eric Ramirez, 18, a family friend who was standing outside the car with Garcia. The mother, in the car with Contreras, was not injured.

The 4-month-old was airlifted to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, where he underwent surgery. Munoz said doctors were initially upbeat about his condition but about 4 a.m. informed the family that he had died.

"Marlene said, 'Why did God bring him to me if he was going to take him away so quickly?'" Munoz said tearfully.

Contreras, who is pregnant, underwent surgery at a hospital and is expected to survive, said LAPD Det. Robert Bub. Eric Ramirez suffered minor injuries and was treated at a hospital and released, said his mother, Maria Ramirez, who went to the scene Monday.

Maria Ramirez said her son told her that the two men who approached the group demanded to know where they were from. Her son responded "Barrio Van Nuys" and the two men fired at them, Maria Ramirez said.

Police said that Eric Ramirez is a known gang member and that the baby's father has had "minor" associations with gangs. Family members said neither is affiliated with gangs.

After the shooting, Marlene Ramirez ran down the street with Andrew in her arms, looking for help, her cousin said. A neighbor persuaded the young mother to sit on the grass and wait for an ambulance, Munoz said.

On Monday, a trail of blood drops leading from the site of the shooting to the end of the block could be seen on the sidewalk. A teddy bear memorial, with votive candles and balloons, marked the spot where Andrew was hit.

Frank Garcia works in a warehouse, and Marlene Ramirez has a job at McDonald's, Munoz said. Marlene Ramirez is attending a local continuation school to finish her high school classes, the cousin said.

"She wanted to get a better job for Andrew," Munoz said.

The gritty neighborhood where the shooting took place is made up of modest homes and apartments and is just blocks from the Van Nuys police station and civic buildings, including the Van Nuys Courthouse. Neighbors said that they are used to police helicopters and sirens but that shootings on their block are rare.

Violent crime has generally declined in Van Nuys over the last two years, Los Angeles Police Department records show. Homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults fell 25% between 2007 and the year to date.

Gang-related crime has also fallen, said LAPD Deputy Chief Michel Moore. In 2002, there were 49 victims of gang violence compared with 18 for the year to date, Moore said. But police cautioned that spikes in gang-related shootings occur despite strides in reducing crime.

Neighbors and relatives said they hoped to see quick arrests.

"It's such a tragic thing for anybody to die," said Johnna Hodges, 58, who lives three houses away from where the shooting took place. "But a baby -- it just tugs at your heart."

-- Catherine Saillant and Ann M. Simmons

Photo: Andrew Garcia, a 4-month-old killed in an apparent gang-related attack early Sunday, is remembered at a vigil on the site where the shooting took place. The family was returning home from a baptismal party. Credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

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