Ever since losing his big brother to gun violence on a Meadowview street one month ago, little Guillermo Valencia doesn’t like to talk about it. And hearing anyone else talk about it, he tells his family, makes him sad.
But on a recent day, 5-year-old Guillermo sat down to draw a picture of his family in their new reality since the Christmas Day shooting. In blue crayon, Guillermo sketched himself, his mother and his big sister. And in the corner, above the smiling family, he drew his big brother, 15-year-old Bryan Castanon – with wings.
Last week, the boys’ mother, Maria Miranda, held the picture as she spoke about the impact of losing her oldest son to a violent act that remains unsolved. She traced Guillermo’s angel drawing with her finger and wept.
“He would always say, ‘Life is beautiful.’ He didn’t want to be in any trouble,” Maria Miranda said in Spanish, with her sister, Nicole Miranda, translating. “It’s not fair what happened.”
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Sometime around 9:30 p.m. on Christmas, Bryan left his family’s apartment on 24th Street near Meadowview Road with two friends. The trio headed toward Edward Kemble Elementary School, about one-half mile away on 29th Street, where they were to meet some more friends, according to police and Bryan’s family.
Across the street from the campus, the friends – now a group seven or eight strong – reportedly were confronted by two male suspects they did not know. After a brief argument, both suspects opened fire on the group, striking three victims. A 17-year-old boy was hit in the shoulder and neck; an 18-year-old man in the hand. Bryan took a bullet to the head. He died three days later.
Homicide Detective Scott MacLafferty said he does not know what prompted the shooting, but he does not believe it had anything to do with gang involvement on the part of the victims.
Police have released a sketch based on witness descriptions of one of the shooters – said to be a black man in his late teens, about 5 feet 8, weighing 140 to 160 pounds with twisted hair. Still, MacLafferty said he has run out of leads on the case and is seeking the public’s help to bring the family justice.
Bryan’s family, too, hopes for closure. They ask that anyone with information come forward.
“(The suspects) hurt my whole family. He was very special to us,” Bryan’s aunt, Nicole Miranda, said. “This is going to be the hardest situation we’ve ever been through.”
Maria Miranda said she last saw her son hanging out with friends in the family’s garage. She asked him to come inside: It was getting late, she said, and cold. She went back inside.
The gunfire, reported about 9:45 p.m., startled her. She found it odd; gunfire might be common on New Year’s Eve, she thought to herself, but not Christmas night.
“She never pictured that those gunshots were what took her son’s life away,” Nicole Miranda said.
About 11 p.m., Maria Miranda checked her son’s room and then the garage. He was nowhere to be found. The next morning, she found a detective at her doorstep.
“It was very hard for her to take that in – for somebody to knock on your door and give you news like that,” her sister said.
Violence is not uncommon in the area, one plagued by poverty and gangs. Last year, police responded to 11 assaults with a deadly weapon and two homicides within one-half mile of Kemble Elementary, according to a Bee review of city data. Three years before Bryan’s death – nearly to the day – another 15-year-old boy, Elijah Cook, was fatally shot down the street from where a memorial to Bryan now stands.
On a recent afternoon, parents lined up curbside to pick up their children from the school. None seemed to pay much attention to the memorial, where balloons still sway in the wind and candle wax bleeds onto the sidewalk.
Maria Miranda moved her family to the neighborhood less than a year ago. She said she never worried about her son’s safety.
“He was not the type of kid who would go out and look for trouble,” she said.
She and her sister described Bryan as a respectful, “noble” young man who always made his family a priority. He was a kind and gentle older brother, they said, who braided the hair of his little sister, 12-year-old Gabriela Valencia, and let her paint his toenails. The afternoon before he was shot, he played on the floor with Guillermo, helping the boy assemble a car track he had received for Christmas, his family said.
A freshman at Luther Burbank High School, Bryan loved video games and music, frequently carrying around a boombox. He had an insatiable curiosity, his aunt said, and endless questions about how things worked.
He dreamed of joining the Air Force as a pilot and building a successful future that would allow him to take care of his mother. He was not one to ask for gifts, Nicole Miranda said, and often said he was happy “as long as my family is together.” He was nonetheless thrilled, she said, when he opened up the Jordans she bought him for what would be their last Christmas together.
It was a beautiful holiday, Nicole Miranda said, one filled with joy and laughter.
“There’s not going to be any more Christmas, no more birthdays. All we’re going to have is memories,” she said. “What about his dreams, his plans, what he wanted to do? They’re gone.”
Anyone with information about this crime is asked to call Sacramento police at (916) 264-5471 or Crime Alert at (916) 443-HELP. Callers can remain anonymous and might be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000.