Crime - Sacto 911

Father’s deportation fractured family of 13-year-old Lodi shooting victim

Azucena Reyes is comforted by family friend Rosa Santibañez during open-casket visitation for Reyes’ slain 13-year-old son Eduardo Lagunas at Lodi Funeral Home on Monday
Azucena Reyes is comforted by family friend Rosa Santibañez during open-casket visitation for Reyes’ slain 13-year-old son Eduardo Lagunas at Lodi Funeral Home on Monday hamezcua@sacbee.com

LODI – Pancakes, eggs and maple syrup were Sunday morning staples in the Lagunas home.

It was a tradition the family adopted to stay connected after Bernardo Lagunas was deported to Mexico, leaving behind his wife and four young boys nearly three years ago. It was normal and American. It was safe.

After 13-year-old Eduardo Lagunas was shot in the back of the head last month, even breakfast is no longer sacred.

It will forever be the last meal the boy shared with his family. The last time all of Azucena Reyes’ sons sat around a table, laughing.

On Tuesday, the family will bury Eduardo at Cherokee Memorial Park in Lodi. His father won’t be at the funeral. He was deported in 2012, leaving behind four boys ages 1 through 13 and a wife forced to take on longer and longer hours in the fields, tending grapevines, to financially support her children.

Eduardo, who was 10 years old at the time, reacted poorly to his father’s departure, his brother José Lagunas, now 16, told The Bee.

He started acting out, José said, staying with friends, not wanting to come home to the place his father no longer lived.

“Of all of us, (Eduardo) was the closest to our dad,” José said. “He took it really hard when he got deported.”

Somewhere along the way, José said, Eduardo fell in with a rougher crowd. He would disappear until late at night, come home without explanation.

Reyes said her son would say he was going out to visit friends. She trusted him, she said. She described Eduardo as a good boy, sweet and affectionate, a positive influence on his little brothers – ages 8 and 4. She didn’t think he’d lie.

But she also couldn’t explain what he was doing on the other side of town – in the 900 block of South Garfield Street – the night he was killed.

“I always told him not to leave the area right around our house,” Reyes said in Spanish. “He has friends close by. I don’t know why he was all the way over there. The police still haven’t told us why he was killed.”

The shooting happened just after midnight on Feb. 17, sending a spray of bullets into fences and nearby apartment courtyards.

Soon after, police said, Eduardo was dropped off by friends at Lodi Memorial Hospital with a gunshot wound to the back of his head. Hospital workers wrote down the license plate number of the vehicle. It was found later in the 400 block of East Locust Street in Lodi and searched by police.

On Feb. 21, Eduardo died in his hospital bed. He was surrounded by family, his mother weeping at his side. José said he told his brother that he loved him – words he regrets not having said more to his little brother in life.

“I feel like I should have done more,” José said. “Through all of this, I should have been there to protect him.”

Police have not named any suspects in the case, which is being investigated as a homicide.

Detectives are working to determine whether Eduardo’s killing may be related to a shooting the night before, in which two young men were wounded about two miles away while standing on the front porch of a house in the 700 block of North Church Street, police spokesman Lt. Sierra Brucia said.

That case, Brucia said, was the result of conflict between the Norteños and Sureños – Lodi’s most active gangs.

Several neighbors and community members described the area as violent. Gunshots, they said, were not unusual. But, Brucia said, gang violence in Lodi has dropped nearly 70 percent since 2011.

Reaching out to young people is key in curbing gang activity, Brucia said. Eduardo would have been their target demographic.

“Thirteen is a really important age,” he said. “That’s about the age where they’re starting to make the determination that maybe their peers are more important to them than their family, or if they don’t have that strong family dynamic they can be very easily influenced by some of the ‘exciting’ parts of the gang life that they’re told about or see on TV or in video games or whatever the case may be. They’re also exposed to more of the world, more of life. They’ve got a little bit more freedom, they’re not as tied to their parents, they can be out on their own.”

Last week, friends and classmates recalled Eduardo as funny, not the kind of kid one would expect to get caught up in gangs.

But one classmate, a 13-year-old boy, said Eduardo took to older, tougher guys seeking protection. He recalled a time when the two were forced to run and hide from a grown man, a member of a gang. The Sacramento Bee is withholding the name of the classmate because of the nature of the crime.

“We were running and he looked at me and said, ‘Don’t get caught up in this; don’t be like me,’ ” he said, adding that Eduardo had told him he was scared for himself and his family.

Detectives are seeking the public’s help in gathering information in Eduardo’s death.

Jon Rodney, spokesman for the California Immigrant Policy Center, said though tragic, the Lagunas family’s situation is hardly unique.

According to American Community Survey data, immigrants and their children made up 27 percent of the population in the Sacramento region as of 2012, but only about half of those immigrants are citizens.

In 2012, Eduardo’s father was one of about 418,000 immigrants deported from the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center. More than half of those people were deported for reasons other than a criminal conviction, the study said.

Deportations that pull parents away from their children often put pressure on the spouse left behind and jeopardize the welfare of children, said Rodney, whose organization lobbies for immigration reform. Many end up in the foster system. Others, perhaps like Eduardo, may seek security elsewhere.

“Deportation can have a devastating impact on families,” Rodney said. “It creates anxiety and depression among families and creates an enormous economic strain.”

On Sunday, instead of gathering around the breakfast table, Eduardo’s family gathered at El Rinconcito on South Washington Street, where friends and relatives held a two-day car wash to raise money for the boy’s funeral and burial services.

They collected more than $1,000 on Saturday alone.

Mexican music trumpeted over the sizzle of tortillas roasting on a hot stove as cars pulled in and out of the small corner lot. José washed cars with about a dozen volunteers from the neighborhood as Eduardo’s friends passed around donation jars – each adorned with pictures of the slain boy’s smiling face.

The two younger brothers, Daniel and Jonathan, held up neon handwritten signs that read “RIP” and “anything helps!”

Reyes stood back and watched her surviving sons, silently wiping tears from her eyes.

Call The Bee’s Marissa Lang at (916) 321-1038. Follow her on Twitter at @Marissa_Jae.

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