Grandmother who was shot speaks out

An innocent bystander discusses aftermath of East Palo Alto bus-stop shooting

The early afternoon of May 5 started out as a special grandmother-and-granddaughter day for 6-year-old "Ashley" and her grandmother, "Susana." The elder woman and her grandchild had planned an outing to Menlo Park for Chinese food and playing at Burgess Park.

The pair often goes to Burgess. There is a park nearby their East Palo Alto home, but it isn't safe. There is gunfire and drugs, and people have been shot, Susana said.

Ashley carried the large ball she loves to toss at the park as they walked to the bus stop outside the McDonald's restaurant. She placed the plastic orb on the pavement as they waited by the shelter.

Within minutes, the memories of special outings with grandma and frolicking in the park on a sunny Sunday were shattered by a gunshot. Ashley ran, as glass from the bus stop shelter shattered. A bullet tore through Ashley's ball, leaving a flattened mass on the sidewalk, and another tore through her grandmother's foot.

As a series of loud bangs pierced the air, Susana saw her granddaughter fall down. As she ran for cover to McDonald's, her right foot felt very hot.

"I was bleeding a lot. Then I couldn't see anymore. I was afraid I would die with all the blood. I was just asking to get my granddaughter close," she said, recalling that she was losing consciousness.

Five people were shot that afternoon at the bus stop, in full daylight and plain view of everyone on the street: the people sitting at tables inside McDonald's, the cars whizzing by and the pedestrians on their way to and from Cinco de Mayo parties or shopping at the nearby La Estrellita Market. Susana and Ashley instantly became statistics in East Palo Alto's long history of casualties of gun and gang violence. They were innocent bystanders with no connection to the shooters or the four other victims -- young men police suspect were targeted in a gang-related incident.

They were also lucky.

Ashley sustained cuts to her leg from the flying glass and falling to the pavement. The emotional scars are harder to erase.

A bright, perky child with pigtails, Ashley isn't shy with a stranger. But one of the first things she'll say is that she's seeing a psychologist. Asked how her leg is doing, she doesn't respond.

At the clinic they go to, there is a waiting list to see a psychologist. The only help they could get for the emotional trauma was the school psychologist, her mother, "Monica," said.

"She is very afraid to go outside. When she sees a group of boys about the same age, she says, 'They are really bad. They have guns,'" Monica said.

In the converted garage Ashley shares with her mother and grandparents, a multitude of pink stuffed animals -- many teddy bears -- were neatly arranged on the double bed she shares with Monica. Crucifixes and pictures of princesses, Tinkerbell and the Little Mermaid hang from the walls.

Sitting beside her mother on the bed on Wednesday afternoon, Ashley chose a pseudonym for this story. The family fears retribution after witnessing a gang-related crime. She leaned against Monica and whispered softly, "Disney." More than anything, Ashley said she wants to go to Disneyland -- to the "The Happiest Place on Earth" -- where she can get her picture taken with her favorite characters.

Susana lay on the room's other double bed, her heavily bandaged foot propped on a pillow. Her bloodstained sneaker has a bullet hole near the base of the big toe; the exit is on the diagonal, about where the pinky toe would be. The bullet shot through two toes. What she wants most is to walk again, she said.

Susana is the main breadwinner for her family, and she needs to return to work. She can't stand up or put any weight on the foot. On Thursday, she planned to visit the doctor. She was hoping to have good news for a full recovery, she said.

"She is one of the hardest-working people I have ever known," said friend Barrett Moore, a volunteer at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church Dining Room, where Susana works to feed the needy. She delivers food to area churches and to the San Mateo County Jail to feed prisoners, she said.

Moore said Susana is paler since the shooting. Ten days after the incident, she still takes medicine to ease the sharp, penetrating pain.

The emotional trauma is also deep.

"I don't feel like I want to go out. Tomorrow is the first day I will go out -- to go to the doctor. But I don't want the day to arrive. God willing, I will overcome this," Susana said.

But she feels lucky because she was not killed, she added.

"The priest at the church said, 'All of the angels were protecting you because they want you to bring more food to the churches,'" she said.

The family hasn't heard much from other people about whether the brazen shooting has frightened the community.

"We are too busy always working to know many people," Monica said.

There's a certain irony in that statement. Monica said the crime problem in East Palo Alto is in part caused "because parents work a lot, and kids are not getting attention."

Innocent bystanders are rarely shot in East Palo Alto. But three high-profile cases have occurred in the city in the last two years, including the one involving Susana and Ashley. The most notable was 3-month-old Izack Jesus Jimenez Garcia, who was shot in the head and killed on June 5, 2011.

East Palo Alto Councilwoman Lisa Yarbrough-Gauthier said recently the shooting that involved Susana and Ashley has many in the community struggling to find answers for how to change the thinking of young gang members.

"I just can't even figure the mindset of somebody who does this," she said.

Police and city officials vowed on May 6 to hammer hard on two gangs believed responsible for a surge in violence in the city since January.

But after 20 years, Susana and her family plan to move out of the city, they said.

"Every night we hear shootings. I am very afraid -- more for my daughter," Monica said.

She said she doesn't hate the people who shot her mother and traumatized her child.

"I'm just really, really saddened that they are so young and killing themselves," she said.

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Like this comment
Posted by Haves and havenots
a resident of another community
on May 18, 2013 at 4:52 pm

This continues every day. Last night I was awaken by two different sets of shots. First one, stayed awake for a long time, then another in about one or two hours. I looked out my window, thinking that the police will come and investigate but no one came. Everything seemed calmed but who knows what really happened. I did not dear to opened may door and find out. It is a shame that only few miles away people live peacefully, while here we are like in a war zone. These is part of the I haves and havenots. They have great parks, when ours is taken by the gangsters, our people cannot even take a bus safely to get out children to other city's parks. How unfair is live. How many more people need to die in order for city officials to take the violence issue seriously. They need to bring the Army here. They should be fighting the bad guys in our own country not somewhere else. Let's start cleaning up our own home first.

Like this comment
Posted by Haves and havenots
a resident of another community
on May 18, 2013 at 4:57 pm

I forgot to say that this is a really great report. Thanks again Sue fro taking the time to write about real issues that affect our community. Hope that Susana and Ashley get the help they need to recover both physical and emotionally.

Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on May 18, 2013 at 8:51 pm

How do I donate to the "Disney" fund?

Like this comment
Posted by Candy
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 20, 2013 at 11:26 am

How do people feel about installing cameras? or license plate readers? The police need help catching these bad guys!!!! People also need to speak out and tell the police as much info as possible! So sorry for this innocent family! Stay safe everyone.

Like this comment
Posted by DT
a resident of another community
on May 20, 2013 at 11:37 am

I think that it is terrible with all the money in this area that this poor child can not even see a psychologist to try to get over the trauma that she has had to go through. People need to step up and help others. Isn't there someone one out there that could maybe treat this child and her Grandmother for free.

Like this comment
Posted by None
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 20, 2013 at 11:48 am

Cameras. I'm in favor, it solves a lot of the evidence problems the police have, and we all need them to solve those problems somehow. I don't know if the city would go for it. There's a great fear among many residents that the cameras will be used for other purposes - hunting down people with immigration or auto licensing problems. They invite lawsuits - much more expensive than the cameras, which the city can't afford. We should ask at a police beat or city meeting though, whether the city has considered them.

I know they aren't being considered for traffic use on University Ave. CA law is such that local municipalities' tickets are dismissed if they make any money from them, so instead we get dump trucks running red lights 4+ seconds late at 50mph. Maybe they'd be considered for safety only.

Like this comment
Posted by Kelly
a resident of College Terrace
on May 20, 2013 at 11:59 am

Mike: I emailed the author of the article and she passed along information about a contact person for the family to whom I could speak about donations. Email Sue if you're interested in donating!

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 20, 2013 at 12:12 pm

I'm really glad that these two are physically safe. I hope that they can remain as anon as possible & that they're able to move out of EPA asap.

On a more sour note, I couldn't help but wonder, after I read the article, if they live in a legal or illegal garage conversion. We have too many of the illegal ones, & those who put them together exploit those less fortunate. They're also a true danger to the health & safety of others. Here's to this family getting out of EPA & into a place that is NOT a garage conversion!

Like this comment
Posted by Abe Mitchell
a resident of Meadow Park
on May 20, 2013 at 12:16 pm

This country has a major problem with hoods whom are armed with shooters of different types. Surely it could be considered that the ammunition for the shooters could become controlled by the shops etc that sell the same. In other words if the person trying to purchase ammunition can not produce a recognised licence for his gun, then no sale of the ammunition.Perhaps this could be a deterrent for future gun law safety.This is the law in the United Kingdom, no licence no legal gun or rifle!!

Like this comment
Posted by Ann
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 20, 2013 at 12:23 pm

Sue, let me know about donating for "Disney" and any other things concerning this incident for which donations are being sought. We should all help.

Like this comment
Posted by Chris
a resident of Green Acres
on May 20, 2013 at 1:31 pm

I'm glad you did this story. Thanks.

Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on May 20, 2013 at 8:32 pm

Check. Sue contacted.

Like this comment
Posted by P.A. Native
a resident of Mountain View
on May 21, 2013 at 10:39 am

Maybe Sue could post the address of where we could send a donation? It sounds like this grandmother and granddaughter could really use a vacation.

Like this comment
Posted by Un and underserved
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 21, 2013 at 6:18 pm

It's always sad to hear about the violence happening in this community. There are so many decent people with good family values and it's a shame that we end up living in fear of gang violence, which seems similar to nationally giving in to fear of terrorism. For this reason I am sad that the family is choosing to leave.

To "Haves and havenots" I have experienced similar situations, once having called the police BACK after hearing gunfire minutes after the patrol car drove down the street slowly then left. Neighbors and I called knowing who was shooting and told this to the police officer (who never bothered to leave his patrol car). We were told that unless we witness it they can not investigate. We can't witness it because they shoot from their yard or in the dark. My car has been shot by stray bullet during recreational shooting. Nothing is ever done.

Police officers taking reports tell us we should move. US move?! Why US? Why not move the criminals out? It's easier said than done I know but from personal experience many officers just do not care. They are just waiting for reassignment.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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