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Relatives mourn toddler slain in South Los Angeles shooting [Updated]

May 24, 2011 |  2:10 pm

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All little Joshua Montes wanted was to be outside so he could play, his big sister sadly recalled.

Ana Montes, 12, had watched her 2-year-old brother go out the back door of their family’s house in the 1200 block of East 55th Street in Los Angeles on Monday night, carried by an uncle. Then, as she described it, she heard a familiar sound: the crack of gunfire.

[Updated at 2:26 p.m.: Family members say Joshua Montes was 22 months old, just shy of the 2 years reported by police.]

Deadly violence had settled once again on a weary, gang-plagued South L.A. neighborhood, claiming another innocent life.
     
Bullets from that gunfire hit Joshua and his uncle, Josefat Canchola, believed to have been holding the boy in the arms. Joshua died after being struck in the head. Canchola, also hit in the head, was taken to a nearby hospital where he was listed in critical condition.

Neither Joshua nor his uncle, who is in his 30s, was an intended target, say police investigating the shooting. The gunfire came from nearby Hooper Avenue, about 40 yards from the spot where Joseph and his uncle were playing in the family’s backyard, a police source said. Investigators found shell casings on the street and bullet holes in a narrow fence that wraps around the yard. They believe bullets penetrated the fence and hit both victims. The neighborhood is about four miles south of downtown Los Angeles.
 
Tuesday, the police investigation offered no solace for Joshua’s family. In the morning they huddled together in their spare, green-walled living room, somber and tearful, trying to make sense if it all. Because nobody in her family speaks much English and because her mother and father were overcome by grief, Ana translated. She said nobody in the family saw what happened; they only heard the gunfire and raced to the backyard, where they found her brother and uncle on the ground.

Ana described Joshua as an extremely happy little boy whom family members had lovingly dubbed Pelon, Spanish for bald, because for a long time he had little hair. Joshua was a good walker and was just beginning to speak. “He was talking a little bit,” Ana said. “He calls every person ‘Mom’ because he knows everyone listens to him when he says that.”

He also had a tight bond with his uncle, a garment worker who lived in the home. “Every time my uncle came home from work little Joshua would come running toward him,” Ana said, choking up. “They were very close.”

A neighbor who refused to give her name because she feared a gang reprisal described a chaotic scene in the neighborhood Monday night. After the gunfire, a man the neighbor said was Joshua’s father, Juan Montes, came running onto the street, carrying his son in his arms and screaming for help. Dozens of neighbors emerged from their homes to see what they could do, but it was too late, Joshua “was not moving anymore.”

The woman and several other neighbors, who also would not give their names for safety reasons, said the shooting was the third in the neighborhood in the last month. “This is one scary place,” the woman said. “I want to move away as soon as I can.”

More than 45 homicides have occurred within one mile of Joshua’s home since Jan. 1, 2007, according to The Times' Homicide Report.

[Corrected at 4:25 p.m.: An earlier version of this post reported incorrectly that the shooting occurred in the 122 block of East 55th Street and that the gunfire originated from Hoover Street.]

RELATED:

Uncle of 2-year-old fatally shot in head is fighting for his own life

2-year-old boy is shot dead, uncle critically wounded outside South L.A. home

-- Kurt Streeter and Andrew Blankstein

Photo: Ana Montes, 12, stands in the background as her mother, Elizabeth Castaneda, 29, holds a family photo taken on the day Joshua Montes was baptized. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

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