By Daniel Wu
A grieving family gathered on Thursday afternoon to pray, looking out over the water at the same view that seven-year-old Yitzian Yzacc Torres García had enjoyed two days earlier, just before he died.
Yitzian had gone to the lookout along the Courtney Campbell Causeway in Tampa with his grandfather to watch the Fourth of July fireworks that evening. Then, the pops of distant fireworks turned to cracks of gunfire, right at the water's edge. A dispute between two groups of people suddenly turned violent. They drew guns and began shooting at each other, according to Tampa Deputy Police Chief Calvin Johnson.
Yitzian's grandfather grabbed the boy and pulled him inside a truck when the shooting started. As they sheltered there, a stray bullet pierced the vehicle and hit Yitzian's grandfather's finger. It then struck Yitzian in the head, killing him.
The shooting, recounted by Johnson in a Wednesday news conference, was one of several deadly bouts of gunfire over the Independence Day holiday - many of which, like in Tampa, involved bystanders caught by stray bullets.
Now Yitzian's family members have joined those across the country grappling with heartache after gunfire erupted from a mundane argument to upend their lives on a night of celebration.
"There's no words to this tragedy," Stephanie Arroyo García, Yitzian's aunt, told The Washington Post. "We are really sad. We are really angry. We want justice."
A spokesperson for the Tampa Police Department said Thursday afternoon that detectives are still investigating the case and had not publicly identified any suspects.
Yitzian, who lives in New Jersey, was visiting his grandparents, Arroyo said. They went to the Courtney Campbell Causeway, a scenic roadway overlooking Tampa Bay, to watch fireworks, but gunshots rang out after they arrived.
Officers responded to the shooting around 8:30 pm, Johnson said Wednesday. Witnesses told officers that the shooting started between two groups of people at the causeway who were arguing about jet skis, Johnson said.
One group was angry at the other group for riding their jet skis too close to the shore where children were playing, according to Johnson. The jet ski riders "became agitated" and left the water. The groups then got into a confrontation that ended in gunfire, Johnson said.
Yitzian and his grandfather did not know the arguing groups and were not a part of the dispute before the gunshots started, Arroyo said.
Johnson, who spoke with visible frustration at several points during the sombre news conference, said there was no excuse for any dispute to descend into gunfire. He referred to the gun violence affecting cities across the country and said he was angry that Tampa had become the latest scene of a tragedy.
"We need to do better as a community," Johnson said. "Really, as Americans."
Yitzian, whose relatives affectionately called him "Bootie," loved cars and video games, Arroyo said.
"He was 7 years old, starting life," Arroyo said. "He was really happy."
Yitzian's family in Florida and Puerto Rico are reeling from his death, Arroyo said. Juan Carlos Hernandez, Yitzian's grandfather, lost a finger in the shooting, he told FOX 13.
"I just feel like I'm going to see my kid again, but I know it's not going to happen,"; Hernandez said.
Arroyo said that Yitzian's mother, Yessica, is "in shock."
"She sometimes is okay, but, sometimes, she remembers him and she thinks that it's a dream," Arroyo said.
A fundraiser to help cover Yitzian's funeral expenses had raised over $19,000 (about R360,000) as of Friday. Thursday afternoon, family members, flanked by television news cameras, gathered for an informal vigil at the spot along the causeway where Yitzian died.
Arroyo and her relatives arranged candles, teddy bears and a red-striped toy car around a makeshift memorial. Then they lit the candles and sent bunches of white balloons into the sky over Tampa Bay.
"A lot of tears," Arroyo said. "It was a really hard day."
The Washington Post