Man, 19, charged in Calif. toddler shooting

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) — A man was charged with murder and attempted murder Thursday after police say he fired a volley of bullets onto a front porch where young children were playing, killing a 3-year-old and critically injuring a pregnant woman and her 3-year-old daughter.

Brandon Taray Barnes, 19, of San Bernardino was arrested late Wednesday after police connected him to the shooting through witness interviews, said San Bernardino police Lt. Gwendolyn Waters.

He was charged with one count of murder and seven counts of attempted murder in the Monday shooting, one for each of the individuals who were relaxing on the porch when the shooting occurred, District Attorney Michael Ramos said at a news conference.

Ramos called the shooting “horrendous” and a “cowardly act,” and vowed justice in the case. “We will not allow this to happen to our citizens, especially our babies,” he said.

Police believe Barnes was retaliating against a male resident of the home who had intervened earlier in the day when he saw the suspect assaulting a woman outside a nearby market.

Barnes likely saw the Good Samaritan return to the home where the shooting occurred and fired at least a dozen bullets into the residence, Waters said.

“It shows not only a lack of conscience, but it shows cowardice and lack of respect for human life,” said police Chief Keith Kilmer.

Barnes was arrested just after 5 p.m. Wednesday while riding his bicycle two blocks from the crime scene. He is affiliated with a Los Angeles-area gang, authorities said, but they declined to say which one. Police have not recovered the weapon.

Barnes could make a first court appearance as early as Friday, and it was unclear if he had retained an attorney. Court records did not list an attorney for him, and a public defender who represented him previously, Andrew Moll, did not immediately return an email sent after business hours.

Police and prosecutors declined to release Barnes’ photograph, saying they needed to protect the integrity of the investigation should they conduct a photo line-up with witnesses.

Nylah Franco-Torrez, 3, was pronounced dead at a hospital from a gunshot wound to the head.

Authorities declined to release the names of the surviving victims, but family members identified the pregnant woman as 21-year-old La Donna Howie and her daughter as 3-year-old Justine Aguilar. They said the man who had tried to help the unidentified woman at the market, angering Barnes, was Howie’s husband.

Howie was to be released from the hospital Thursday but would need extensive therapy to restore her voice and speech after being shot in the jaw and neck, her grandmother, Sophia Cardona, said. Howie, who is five months pregnant, learned Wednesday night that her daughter was also hospitalized and learned Thursday that Franco-Torrez had died.

The relationship between Howie and Franco-Torrez was unclear.

Howie’s daughter, who was also shot in the head, is in a medically induced coma because of brain swelling, Cardona said.

She is responding to people by moving her hand, authorities said.

“I went to see her yesterday and we were only allowed to go in and just look, not speak, not hold onto anything, make any noise to disturb her because she can hear you,” Cardona said. “We’re just hoping that it will all come out. I’m just hoping we don’t have to go through another one.”

The mustard-colored house where the shooting occurred is in a downtrodden neighborhood of boarded up homes and auto repair shops.

Cardona, who has 21 grandchildren and 32 great-grandchildren, said the home is constantly filled with children coming and going, and one of the family’s favorite pastimes is sitting on the porch, watching the kids play.

“Wherever I go, I have family around all the time. There’s always kids around, always,” she said. “If he lived in the neighborhood, he knows that.”

Court records show Barnes had an outstanding warrant for his arrest on a misdemeanor charge of loitering by a school. He was arrested on allegations of fighting in a public place a year ago, but the case was dismissed after Barnes struck a plea deal.

The attack was one of four shootings in San Bernardino between Monday night and Tuesday morning and marked an end to more than two months without a homicide in the desert city 60 miles east of Los Angeles.

Authorities do not believe the victims or the man who intervened in the assault have any gang connections.

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