6-year-old boy hit by stray bullet while celebrating Independence Day

Children should be safe in their own backyards, say family members of a 6-year-old boy who was injured by a stray bullet on Fourth of July evening.

“Where is a safe area? Not even in your own home,” said the boy’s grandfather, Lilo Arguellez, 47, choking back tears, adding that he and his wife were watching and supervising the child at the time.

“We never expected this in our own yard,” said the boy’s grandmother, Krissey Arguellez, 49.

About 10:30 p.m. Thursday, Victoria police were dispatched to a Victoria hospital where Joe Pena, 6, was being treated for a gunshot wound, according to a department news release. A preliminary investigation revealed Joe had been struck by a stray bullet while he was celebrating the holiday in the backyard of a Victoria home in the 2000 block of East Forrest Street, police said.

Friday, Joe was recovering at a San Antonio hospital where he had undergone surgery to remove a .45-caliber slug from his forearm, family members said.

Both Arguellezes said mere random chance had prevented Joe or another child from a far more severe injury or even death.

“I love all my grandchildren. They are the world to me. I would do anything for them,” said Lilo Arguellez.

At the time of the injury, Joe and four other children were enjoying a quiet evening in their backyard under the watch of the Arguellezes. From inside their fenced backyard, the adults and children were watching a fireworks display at the nearby Victoria Community Center.

Suddenly, the evening was split by the sound of screaming.

“He turned around and started hollering,” said Krissey Arguellez. “He said, ‘It hurts. It hurts,’ and we saw the blood and thought he had just cut himself.”

Puzzled, the Arguellezes took the boy to a Victoria emergency room, where they quickly learned Joe’s injury was far more than a cut or broken bone.

“Once we got to the ER, that’s when we discovered the bullet and airlifted him to San Antonio,” said Krissey Arguellez.

The randomness and carelessness that led to Joe’s injury has the Arguellezes wondering whether their home is safe. They said they had never before experienced gunfire or crime along their street, making Joe’s injury even more troubling.

“Now my granddaughter wants to come out and play, and I’m scared to bring her outside,” said Lilo Arguellez.

Zay Reyes, 29, who lives across the street, said he agreed with the Arguellezes’ guess that the bullet had been fired into the air from far away and had randomly struck Joe.

Reyes, who said he is familiar with firearms, said he could hear gunfire Thursday night about a mile away from several directions.

He was emphatic in his ability to distinguish the gunshots from fireworks.

“What goes up must come down,” he said.

Jason Hoover, owner of the Victoria gun shop Hoover’s Outpost, agreed with Reyes’ assessment, adding that it is never safe to fire a gun into the air.

“You never point the gun at anything unless it’s an intended target,” he said.

Although theoretically a bullet fired exactly straight up could arc in such a way that air resistance would slow its fall to the ground, no human possesses the motor precision to do so, he said.

Instead, almost any time a person fires into the air, the bullet will fall to the earth with enough energy to injure or kill, Hoover said.

And while that may seem obvious, people still fire gunshots into the air, he said.

Whether it be indifference, ignorance or another reason, Joe’s grandparents said they are furious and baffled about why someone would take such a risk.

“I’ve heard of it happening in bigger cities, a stray bullet shot in the air comes down and hits somebody. But here? To my grandson?” said Lilo Arguellez.

To the person who shot the bullet that injured their grandson, the Arguellezes said they had stern words. They also said they hoped that person is identified, arrested and prosecuted, although police said they had made no arrests as of Friday.

“What the hell were you thinking?” said Krissey Arguellez.

“May God help you for the guilt, for not being educated, and I hope the law takes care of you,” said Lilo Arguellez, adding, “You shot up in the air, and it came down.”

Jon Wilcox reports on courts for the Victoria Advocate. He may be reached jwilcox@vicad.com or 361-580-6515.

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Jon covers crime, public safety and the courts at the Victoria Advocate. Born in Huntsville, Ala., he grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism at Texas State University.

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