A story for every victim

Times coverage: A community fights back

On  Jan. 13, 2009, Roberto Lopez Jr., a four-year-old Latino boy, was shot and killed in front of his parents' home in the 1200 block of W. Court St. of Echo Park

Since his death, many in the community broke their silence about the activities of the local gang. Their tips to police helped catch Howard Astorga, a 26-year-old Latino, who was convicted last week of Roberto's murder. 

Times reporter Esme Bermudez went back to Roberto's neighborhood, where she reported on the day of his slaying, to learn more about what has happened since:

Araceli Gonzalez Rojas' grief breaks forth in fractured sentences. A year later, the two- to three-word shards choke her as she speaks.

Ever since her playful 4-year-old son -- who loved to dance in pajamas and cowboy boots -- was gunned down by a gangster a few feet from their Echo Park home, she and her husband, Roberto Lopez, have mourned mostly in silence.

They built colorful altars in his name, using marble, wood and wrapping paper: one in the bedroom where Roberto Lopez Jr. slept curled up beside his older sister and brother; one in the living room where his grandparents tenderly talk to his framed photograph; and one outside their duplex where neighbors pause now and then to reflect.

Howard Astorga, a known gang member, was convicted last week of Roberto's murder. When a judge asks the couple a month from now to address him at his sentencing, they will hand over a written note for someone else to read out loud.

"We can't do it," said Gonzalez Rojas, 26, sitting in her living room. "But I want to tell him, 'See. . . . See what you've done . . . to us. Please . . . tell your friends . . . tell the gangs . . . to stop. Please. Let us live in peace."

When gang violence erupts in the neighborhood, as it has for generations, people often hide. They close their doors. They avoid police and don't go out after sundown.

Keep reading: Grief propels an Echo Park community

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