Miguel Castro was a 17-year-old boy who, in January 2000, was hanging out with friends in front of an Escondido apartment complex.
He was not in a gang, police said. But that didn’t matter to the gunman.
Two days after a documented Escondido gang member was stabbed to death in a fight in central Escondido, a car full of people seeking retaliation pulled up and opened fire on Castro and his friends, police said. He and another boy were shot.
Someone in the car got out, approached Miguel and executed him with a bullet to the head. The teenager died there, at East Mission Avenue and Hickory Street, on Jan. 31, 2000. The other boy survived.
The case remains unsolved. But his mother is still pushing for answers, and there’s a $10,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest.
“They killed an innocent child,” Carmen Castro said Friday in Spanish interpreted by another son. “His life was short. Meanwhile, those people are enjoying 22 years of life like nothing ever happened.”
Escondido police are seeking answers, too, and the killing is back at the top of the cold-case investigation files. On Thursday, San Diego County Crime Stoppers issued a bulletin asking witnesses to come forward and announcing the reward.
Police said last week they still believe — as they did two decades ago — that Castro’s death was payback for the fatal stabbing of Angel Gonzalez Olea, 19. He was killed during a suspected gang fight in a parking lot outside a quinceañera celebration.
Two days later, Castro was killed in the rival gang’s neighborhood.
“They retaliated against the wrong person,” then-Escondido police Detective Miguel Ramirez told the Union-Tribune in 2003. “That kid had nothing to do with gangs.”
Olea’s case remains unsolved. It, too, is getting a closer look by Escondido police cold case investigators.
For years after Miguel died, Carmen Castro visited her son’s grave every day. She still goes often, her son Daniel Castro said.
Daniel Castro was born one year and eight daysafter his brother Miguel, whom the younger sibling saw as a protector and a friend. They were “really close, like twins,” Castro said. They also have an older sister, Alma Castro.
The boys shared inside jokes, “sometimes laughing just to laugh.” They went to church together and worked in food service at what was in those days known as the Wild Animal Park — andsometimes went to the site on non-work days, just to see the animals.
“He was funny,” Daniel Castro, now 39, said Thursday. “He had a big personality. You would know him if you walked into a room. I was the quiet one.”
Castro said he had planned to hang out with his brother that night, but instead decided to stay home. A friend came pounding on his door with news of the 10:20 p.m. shooting.
Carmen Castro held on to Miguel’s Wild Animal Park name tag, and she said she looks at it often. She still has many of his belongings. She remembers that Miguel went to church and then Chuck E. Cheese on the day before he died.
“Miguel was a 17-year-old boy,” she said, crying as she spoke. “He didn’t have the chance to live.”
She is hopeful that after 22 years, someone will come forward with information that leads to an arrest. The family came up with $7,000 of the $10,000 reward. The rest is from Crime Stoppers and the city of Escondido.
“As a mother and father, we want justice for our son,” she said. Miguel is named after his father.
Anyone with information about the slaying is asked to call Escondido Police Department’s Tipline at (760) 743-8477, or see the form online at https://www.police.escondido.org.
Witnesses and tipsters can also call Crime Stoppers anonymous tip line at (888) 580-8477 or online at sdcrimestoppers.org.