Child dies after Southern Calif. road rage shooting
A 6-year-old boy seated in the backseat of his mother’s car on a Southern California freeway was shot to death by another motorist on Friday, authorities said. A California Highway Patrol officer said it was an apparent road rage incident. (May 21)
One day after the mother of a 6-year-old boy killed in a road rage shooting pleaded for justice at his memorial service, two people were arrested in connection with the boy’s death.
The California Highway Patrol said Marcus Anthony Eriz, 24, and Wynne Lee, 23, were taken into custody Sunday outside their home in Costa Mesa and are likely to be charged with murder.
CHP Assistant Chief Don Goodbrand said at a Monday news conference that authorities have recovered the weapon used in the attack and the vehicle in which the suspects were riding. He also said Lee was the driver but declined to share other details of the case, which has been handed to the Orange County district attorney’s office for further investigation and prosecution.
D.A. Todd Spitzer said Eriz and Lee will be arraigned Tuesday.
The fatal shooting of Aiden Leos, 6, occurred May 21 on State Route 55 in the city of Orange as Aiden’s mother, Joanna Cloonan, drove her son to kindergarten.
According to Cloonan and those who stopped to help her, she made a hand gesture to a vehicle that cut her off, which then drove behind her, and someone fired into Cloonan’s vehicle. Aiden, who was sitting in the back seat, was shot in the abdomen and pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
“She had to hold her little boy as he died,” Aiden’s sister, Alexis Cloonan, said of the boy’s mother. The family buried Aiden on Monday.
Goodbrand said tips poured in from community members as the inquiry developed, and many were helpful in tracking down the possible suspects. The relative rarity of their vehicle, a white Volkswagen Golf SportsWagen, also made it easier to find them, he said.
The Los Angeles Times reported that investigators identified the couple after getting a tip and enhancing an image of the vehicle’s license plate. They also discovered both commuted to work in the Inland Empire region of Southern California and were in the area of the shooting when it happened.
In reflecting on why the case had prompted so much cooperation, in addition to national attention, Spitzer said, “It’s because it could have happened to any one of us.
“We all drive the freeways of Southern California. We’ve all gotten upset at other motorists; other motorists have been upset at us. I’ve thrown some gestures about myself. But it’s never come to a situation of violence, and certainly not in my realm or your realm to the loss of a life.”
‘Joy he brought into our lives was insurmountable’: Mother eulogizes 6-year-old boy killed in suspected road rage shooting
The freeway was shut down for hours after the shooting as investigators searched for evidence, and up to $500,000 was offered as a reward for information leading to an arrest. Anonymous donors, government officials and community members all donated to the reward, Spitzer said Friday. It’s unclear whether anyone will receive reward money, or how much. Goodbrand declined to answer questions about the reward.
“On behalf of Border Division Chief Omar Watson and the Santa Ana Area, we are deeply grateful for the professionalism and tireless commitment of our investigators who have worked on this case from Day One to find those responsible for Aiden’s death,” said California Highway Patrol Commissioner Amanda Ray.
Eriz and Lee were held in Orange County jail, each on $1 million bail. It was unclear whether they had attorneys who could speak on their behalf, and their relationship was not immediately known.
At the memorial service Saturday, Cloonan said her son brought a “insurmountable” joy to her life.
“My heart melted every time he laughed and did the silly things he would do, such as breaking out into full dance mode every time he heard a song or when he would talk in silly voices,” she said.
“I want nothing more than to find justice,” Cloonan said. “Although it won’t bring you back into our arms, it makes me outraged that such a precious, beautiful soul did not get the opportunity to continue developing into a young man and starting a family of his own one day while accomplishing his heart’s desires.”
Even though he could barely pronounce the word, Aiden knew he wanted to become an entomologist one day, Cloonan said.
The 6-year-old made sure each night before going to bed to tell his mother and sister, “Good night and sweet dreams.”
“You wanted to make sure everyone was OK before you closed your eyes and ended your day,” Cloonan said to her son at the open-casket service.
Aiden’s sister also spoke during the memorial, recalling tender moments the two had. She said he liked spending time with her even if she was just doing homework or playing video games. She said she’ll hold on to every moment and cherish them for the rest of her life.
“I don’t get to play ‘Mario Kart’ with my little brother or take him to the park ever again, and that breaks my heart,” she said. “Because of the monsters that took Aiden’s life, I will never get to hug my brother again.
“We were supposed to grow up together and help each other through life.”
Contributing: Christine Fernando and Steven Vargas, USA TODAY; The Associated Press