Child homicides not uncommon in Gwinnett

Five of the six people who called 911 that day knew only that they’d heard gunfire and loud voices coming from a nearby home.

“I was laying down and I heard two gunshots, looked out the bedroom window … and they were screaming and running across the street,” one said.

“They’re still hollering,” said another. “She’s still screaming.”

Yet another pleaded: “Oh Jesus. Oh Jesus. Oh Jesus. Please don’t let anybody be hurt.”

The caller who identified himself as Liam Lewis knew exactly what happened just moments before on that day, Aug. 20, in unincorporated Lilburn’s Dickens Mill subdivision.

He informed the 911 operator as much.

“Yes ma’am,” Lewis said. “There was a baby shot at 5238 Stafford Drive.”

Twenty-three-month-old Deandre Vega died that day. He was shot by his maternal grandfather, police say, who was gunning for his father during a driveway argument.

Young Deandre became the 16th homicide of the year in Gwinnett. His death, though, belongs to another statisitical category altogether.

Since the start of 2011, seven children age 15 and under have been the victims of homicide in Gwinnett. Add the three young ones killed in the Feb. 2011 fire at a Lilburn meth house — their causes of death technically ruled “accidental” by the Gwinnett County Medical Examiner’s Office — and the number jumps to double digits.

Their premature deaths span a wide spectrum, from evil to unfortunate.

— On Feb. 9, 2011, Bradley and Edward Garcia-Bolanos, 2 years and 11 months old, respectively, were stabbed to death by their father, Elvis Noe Garcia, who also stabbed himself in an attempt to frame their mother’s new boyfriend. Bradley’s twin brother, Joshua, survived the attack in the basement of their Lawrenceville home.

— Just eight days later, a Lilburn home erupted in fire after a meth-making operation exploded. Stacy Brito, 21 months, and Ivan and Isaac Guevara, 3 and 4 years, respectively, were pulled from the home but later died. Their mother, Neibi Brito, and her cousin, Joseph Perez, were charged with murder. A third suspect remains on the lam.

— On Nov. 1, 2011, Lawrenceville resident Douglas Atha, 28, allegedly shook his 2-month-old daughter, Keyonna, until she died.

— Gwinnett County police were called to the Buford home of 15-year-old Dawntrae Williams on Dec. 19, 2011. Though official reports have been disputed by his family, the youngster was allegedly wielding a machete when officers shot and killed him.

— Thieves barging into his family’s Norcross home — likely after large amounts of money and drugs rumored to be there from his father’s drug business — shot and killed 15-year-old Nicolas Jackson II on Feb. 2, 2012.

— On Dec. 19, 2012, Paul Sampleton Jr., 14, was bound, robbed and fatally shot inside the Grayson townhome where he lived with his mother. Three schoolmates and two adults have been charged in the case.

One child’s homicide is too many; all are tragic. Relatively speaking, though, is Gwinnett’s tally too high?

“I wouldn’t say that Gwinnett was way outpacing the other counties in the state,” said Ryan Sanford, deputy director of Georgia’s Office of the Child Advocate. “I would say Gwinnett and Fulton and DeKalb were a bit higher.”

The Office of the Child Advocate tracks, among other things, child deaths across the state. Its threshold for homicides is a little different than that of most law enforcement agencies — it’s predicated on “sudden and unexpected” deaths — and numbers are slow to be accumulated.

Statistics for ‘12 and ‘13 aren’t yet official, but in 2011 Gwinnett had three deaths of children 15 and under that fell in the OCA’s definition of homicide. DeKalb County had five and Fulton County had seven. The rest of Georgia’s counties, Sanford said, typically saw “one or two at the most.”

“Fulton, Gwinnett and DeKalb are a little higher than the other counties, but not so much so that it’s eye-popping,” Sanford said. “At least from 2011’s data.”

They’re also the state’s three most populous counties, in that order. Cobb County had nearly as many residents as DeKalb at the 2010 census — just shy of 700,ooo — but, outside of those four, no other county has more than 265,000.

Gwinnett’s population is over 800,000.

On Friday afternoon Deandre Vega’s grandfather, Luis Efrain Torres, is scheduled to be in Gwinnett County Magistrate Court. After hearing a few minutes of testimony from a responding police officer or the homicide detective assigned to the case, a judge will decide if there is enough evidence to bind the charges over to superior court.

The charges are murder and aggravated assault.

At least on this day, it’s unlikely the court will hear the frantic 911 call from Liam Lewis. The judge won’t hear him reiterating that a baby got shot, or pleading for someone to come quick.

No one will hear the emergency operator begin to give instructions for CPR: “Put your ear next to his mouth and tell me if you can feel any breathing.”

The response — “nothing” — won’t be played either.