Family members and friends of a 12-year-old boy killed by a stray bullet on Thanksgiving walked roughly a mile in the heat in the Skyline neighborhood Saturday, demanding justice on what would have been Angel Gaspar Gallegos’ 13th birthday.
Saturday also marked day 79, his family members said, referring to the number of days since the fatal shooting, or rather the number of days the case has gone unsolved.
“They not only took him from us. They took a part of us, and they flipped our lives (upside down),” said Maria Gaspar, one of the boy’s aunts.
The family’s goals Saturday were to remember and honor Angel and to bring attention to the case. Both police and family members like Gaspar hope someone comes forward with information that could crack the case.
In a recent interview, San Diego police Chief David Nisleit described the shooting as a tragic case, one that detectives are determined to solve. Nisleit called it a top priority.
“Someone knows something,” Gaspar said.
“The family deserves that closure,” the chief said.
Angel was shot about 9:30 p.m. while he was in his family’s backyard on Cahill Drive during a Thanksgiving gathering. He collapsed, but no one in the yard that night knew immediately what had happened — that a bullet had pierced a backyard fence and struck the boy in his back.
Paramedics took him to a hospital, where he died.
From the start, police had little to go on. They didn’t know — and still don’t know, police said — exactly where the round came from, let alone who fired the bullet.
Police did have at least one clue: a bullet hole in the backyard fence. In the aftermath of the shooting, detectives scoured a canyon that abuts the backyard, looking for any other clues.
Homicide Lt. Jud Campbell last week acknowledged that detectives were left with little evidence and needed members of the public who know something to speak up.
“We have had some information come our way,” Campbell said, adding that detectives were actively working the case and “exhausting” all leads.
Police determined the round was fired from a distance — not the “immediate vicinity” — from somewhere north or northeast of the backyard, Campbell said. The exact location where the round was fired is unknown.
Nisleit said there’s a technological tool that could have helped detectives: ShotSpotter, a network of audio sensors mounted on street lights in the Lincoln Park, Valencia Park, O’Farrell and Skyline neighborhoods of southeastern San Diego. The technology picks up sounds that are loud enough to be gunfire, triangulates data and alerts police to the possible shooting, including the location where the sounds were captured.
The network of sensors was installed in 2016 but went offline in September after the City Council delayed a decision on whether to renew a contact with ShotSpotter. Some community members had called for regulations to be in place to govern the use of technology like ShotSpotter. Some community members also said Shotspotter could lead to over-policing in communities of color and that there were better ways to invest money to address gun violence.
In Angel’s case, knowing the location where the round was fired would have allowed police to scour the area for any evidence — say, shell casings or surveillance video — and witnesses, Nisleit said.
Without much to go on, the public’s help is of paramount importance, Campbell and Nisleit said.
“We need all of the little pieces to the puzzle to put it all together,” the chief said.
Gaspar said she believes it’s only a matter of time before someone speaks up.
Her family, she said, is determined to keep the case “alive.” They’re also set on bringing awareness to the larger issue of gun violence.
Angel’s death was one of 59 homicides citywide last year, a slight increase compared to the 56 homicides recorded in 2020 and 50 in 2019, according to police figures.
“We want to be Angel’s voice,” Gaspar said. “I wouldn’t want anybody to go through what we’re going through.”
As about 50 family members and friends walked Saturday, they chanted.
“What do we want?”
“When do we want it?”
“Who do we want it for?”
Afterward, in an empty lot on the corner of the busy intersection of Jamacha Road and Cardiff Street, they prayed and sang “Happy Birthday.” They also belted out “Las Mañanitas” in Spanish. They ate pizza and cupcakes with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Spongebob Squarepants themes.