By Ivan Delgado
On the night of January 25, 2012, three people were shot as they stood in an open garage in the Rancho Mariposa neighborhood of Coachella. Unlike the two adults he was with, two-year-old Elijah Bañuelos could not recover from his injuries.
News of the toddler’s violent death shocked not only the neighborhood, but the entire city.
One week later, Mayor Eduardo Garcia and Chief of Police Raymond Gregory reflected on the incident in an exclusive interview with Coachella Unincorporated. They addressed crime and public safety in the city, encouraging residents to come forward with any information that can help law enforcement bring to justice those responsible for the murder of young Elijah.
According to Chief Gregory, this is the first homicide of 2012 in Coachella, and “the first of any child murder in recent history.”
Mayor Eduardo Garcia, who heard what happened to Elijah via a note at a City Council meeting, was hit with a feeling that he described as numbness, wondering how a two-year-old falls victim to someone’s aggressions.
“The community being shocked and alarmed is rightfully so,” said the Mayor, who believes residents have every right to be in awe and concerned about what has happened.
His reaction was to go down to the scene of the crime to understand what had happened, only to find troubling news.
“It happened to be about two hundred yards away from where I live, so it definitely hits close to home, literally.”
Mayor Garcia is focused on engaging the community for answers.
“Someone knows something, someone saw something, but nobody is saying anything,” he said, “and I find that very disturbing, because it has to do with a two-year-old child.”
Chief Gregory said, “We like to think that all crimes could be prevented, but I don’t know if it was something law enforcement could have prevented. I think if you look at the efforts we make in our communities, as far as education, and having programs, outlets for anger and outlets for people to get involved in healthy activities, the goal is to try to prevent violent crimes from happening.
“There has always been people (who), no matter how civilized a society is, will always go outside that and commit violent crimes,” said the Chief, taking a philosophical approach.
The entire community is shaken after what has happened, and some say the feeling of safety in Coachella neighborhoods has been disturbed.
“We’re there doing our part, but resources are limited,” said Chief Gregory, who believes the answer lies partly with the public. He encourages the community to get involved by working to prevent and help solve crimes, which is “only going to lead to a safer community overall.”
Residents should not feel less safe in their own community after what happened in Rancho Mariposa, but Mayor Garcia believes safety is to be determined by the willingness of the public to cooperate and be aware of potential dangers.
“Let’s be realistic,” said Mayor Garcia, “we can’t have a police officer in every corner of the city at all times, and we need public support.”
“We are doing what we do,” said Mayor Garcia, referring to police officers patrolling the streets. “When these incidents occur, we definitely look at shifting priorities to address a number of different problems that are related.”
According to Mayor Garcia, who asks that the community rise up and take on this challenge, as more of these violent crimes occur, it begins to diminish the tranquility of the neighborhoods. Residents, who have never had to deal with isolated incidents like the death of young Elijah, are now concerned and coming together. “It makes us take a step back,” said Mayor Garcia.
“The crime is being investigated by our Central Homicide Unit. They are expert detectives in dealing with homicides,” said Chief Gregory. “They also have other resources that they draw from around the county, different task forces. I know some of those are working on it.”
“We need support, we need help in terms of coming forward, to help us identify who is responsible for this particular incident, because I know there are people in the community that I know have information that can help us, and that same approach needs to be taken collectively to try and keep our community safe,” said Mayor Garcia, as a final message to residents of Coachella who may be concerned for the safety of their families. “The people of Coachella deserve a safer community.”
Chief Gregory’s message is for those responsible for the fatal shooting of Elijah Bañuelos, saying, “We are not going to rest, ever, until we get this solved. We need to do that for the community, we need to do that for the family, we need to do that for the victim, so that there is justice. We are also not going to stop our efforts to try and make neighborhoods in the community safer.”
Residents are urged to call (760) 393-3500 if they have any information that may help solve this crime. Reports can also be made anonymously at Crime Stoppers (760) 341-STOP. Callers to Crime Stoppers may be eligible for a cash reward for information that leads to an arrest and conviction.