Glimmers of hope and thankfulness have emerged in a holiday season otherwise shrouded in tragedy for a West Sacramento family.
The family gained a reason to celebrate when 13-year-old Alize Valadez, regained consciousness following a weeks-long coma. The teen was struck in the head during an Oct. 24 drive-by shooting.
According to the girl’s grandmother, Hope Penunuri, Alize woke up two weeks ago. She has mouthed “I love you” to family members who remain by her bedside at the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.
“You can barely hear it,” Penunuri said Wednesday as she prepared to take a trip to the hospital to see her granddaughter. “She sometimes will move her lips and you can see what she’s saying. Or, if you put your ear to her mouth and say, ‘I love you,’ she’ll say, ‘I love you too.’ Other than that, she can’t talk.”
The eighth-grader remains in serious condition and is unable to move her left side, Penunuri said. She is undergoing rehabilitation and family has relished in every bit of improvement.
“I’m thankful she’s alive,” said Penunuri. “They’re amazed with how good she’s been doing ... to have come that far.”
Authorities are meanwhile investigating why someone would shoot into the home, where Valadez lives with her grandmother.
In an earlier interview with The Sacramento Bee, Penunuri said her granddaughter was watching a movie in the house when the shooting occurred. From her bedroom, Penunuri said she heard a popping noise, then rushed to the living room to ask if her granddaughter had heard the sound only to find the girl bleeding and slumped on the couch.
Sonny Rudy Martinez, 39, of Stockton, who was arrested on Oct. 27 as a suspect was released from jail after the case against him was dismissed this month for insufficient evidence, according to the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office.
He had pleaded not guilty on Oct. 29 in Yolo Superior Court to attempted murder and other charges connected with the shooting. A court date for a “review for potential refilling” is scheduled for Feb. 23.
“The case is still open for us,” said Sgt. Roger Kinney, spokesman for the West Sacramento Police Department. “The District Attorney’s Office reviewed the case, and, based on the evidence presented, they did not feel there was enough to go forward at this time.”
Kinney said that anyone with information is asked to call the department. Two investigators continue to gather evidence.
“We are still looking for new information,” he said.
The West Sacramento duplex where Alize lives has been decorated like a shrine since her shooting. “Pray for Zae” is painted into a window, and the garage door is covered in signs of support created by friends and family members. Prayer candles have been placed just a few feet from where a bullet pierced a front wall.
Penunuri expects to spend much of the holiday season, including Christmas Day, commuting between West Sacramento and the UC Davis Medical Center. The family has been visiting in shifts to keep Valadez company at the hospital, and keeping faith that she’ll continue to improve.
“(Whoever did this) took a lot from her,” said Penunuri. “She’s only 13.”