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Purple shirt may have sparked fatal shooting of baby in Watts

June 5, 2012 | 12:11 pm

Neighbors on narrow Hickory Street in Watts were sad and angry Tuesday after learning that a man on a bicycle had shot and killed a 1-year-old boy on the street the night before.

A cardboard sign with the boy's name -– Angel Mauro Cortez Nava -- and his date of birth and death was posted on the fence of the family’s house, with photographs of him as a newborn and as a toddler on a rocking horse, together with the simple words: “We Love You.”

The boy's father, Mauro Cortez, and several other people in their extended family were in front of a house at 10526 Hickory St. on Monday night, gathered around a car that one of the family members was repairing.

“It was an evening family get-together,” said Mariela Cervantes, whose parents live at the house and took in Cortez almost as their adopted son.

Cortez was cradling Angel in his arms, wearing a shirt that was purple, a color associated with the Barrio Grape Street gang. A family member told him to take the shirt off because of gang violence involving Grape Street that has plagued the area in the last six months. Grape Street is one block west of Hickory.

He complied but apparently another man in the group had on a purple shirt that he did not remove, said Cervantes. As the group chatted outside, a black man in a gray shirt rode by on a bicycle and fired a gun into the crowd. A bullet hit the little boy in the back, family members said. The gunman sped off on his bicycle. The father was wounded in the shooting but is in stable condition at a hospital.

No arrests have been made, and police said they were trying to determine who the gunman is. The fatal shooting occurred about five blocks east of Watts Towers.

Friends and family said Tuesday that Cortez, the boy's father, is an immigrant from Jalisco, Mexico, who did odd jobs. He showed up looking lost three years ago and the Cervantes family took him in, said Sara Cervantes, the family matriarch.

Since then, he has lived with the Cervanteses. He later got married, and in April 2011 the couple had their first child -– Angel.

Another member of the extended family, Maria Trujillo, said: "He was always here playing with the baby. The baby was his life.”

“With these shootings going on, you don’t feel safe in your own front yard,” she added.

The boy’s killing is the latest in what neighbors say has been a six-month war between two area gangs: Fudgetown, a black gang, and Barrio Grape Street, a Latino gang.

“There was a shooting around over there on the corner a block away; one on Wilmington, and another up around the corner,” said Miguel Medina, an unemployed construction worker who has lived on the street for five years. “When I came here it was calm, but then six months ago they began killing each other.”

Neighbors on the tiny street seemed bonded, black and Latino, in the wake of the killing.

“I have two black neighbors. We talk all the time,” Medina said.

Cortez had nothing to do with any gang, they said.

“He barely spoke English,” said Luis Ramos, a neighbor.

Ramos said many Fudgetown members have moved to San Bernardino but often return to Watts to war with Grape Street.

“So we can’t wear what we want, is that it?” said one man who declined to give his name. “We’re all Lakers fans; they have purple. We’re black, white, Chinese. We’re working people. We don’t gang-bang. When a good guy lives to do good then somebody comes by and destroys your life.-–that’s not right.”


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-- Sam Quinones in Watts