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Family and friends mourn boy, 9, slain in D.C. apartment
Relative urges officials to be vigilant in tackling crime in neighborhood

By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Oscar Fuentes was every bit a kid's kid.

When he lived with an older cousin in the District, he was known to run outside at the sound of a bouncing basketball, the cousin said. Friendly? You bet. Annoying? At times.

About what you would expect from a 9-year-old.

On Saturday, Oscar was gunned down in his family's Columbia Heights apartment, struck by a bullet that pierced the dwelling's door, authorities said.

On Monday, dozens of his neighbors, friends and family members gathered on the steps of his apartment building, lighting candles, singing songs and pondering how a boy so young could meet such a violent end.

"We are in a lot of pain in the city right now," said Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), addressing family members at the vigil. "Everyone has a loved one. There is no good way to lose someone, especially so young."

Police have offered few details on what happened before a bullet pierced the door of Oscar's apartment in the 1400 block of Columbia Road.

Initially, law enforcement sources not authorized to speak publicly about the case suggested that family members had run into their second-floor apartment to avoid a robbery and that one of the robbers fired a shot through the door.

But D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said Sunday that investigators were only exploring that possibility. She said that the killing did not appear to be gang-related and that Oscar was not the target. She also said she was confident the case would be closed with an arrest.

Oscar's relatives sobbed during the vigil, and his mom's cousin, Rufino Fuentes, said it was too difficult for immediate family members to return to the scene. Oscar's grandmother Antonia Fuentes appeared at the vigil but did not speak. At one point, a cousin of Oscar's collapsed and had to be taken away on a stretcher. Rufino Fuentes said she was overcome with grief.

Speaking on behalf of the family, Rufino Fuentes thanked city officials for their attentiveness and urged them to be vigilant in addressing the crime problems in Columbia Heights and in Oscar's building.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) told those at the vigil that housing inspectors had recently found more than 100 violations at the building. In the wake of the killing, neighbors said that the locks on the building's exterior door had been broken.

"Don't let this happen to anybody else," Rufino Fuentes said. "Don't just do this because somebody got killed in this building."

After the vigil, he said that Oscar's mother, Maritsa Fuentes, had a message for the public.

"She want justice," he said. "She want the person who killed her son behind bars."

Oscar was a fourth-grader at Raymond Elementary School. He lived in the apartment with his mother, grandmother and an older teenage brother, said neighbors and family friends interviewed in Spanish through a translator. He liked PlayStation, computer games and watching TV, a neighbor said. His family was from El Salvador.

"It didn't matter how bad you treated him. He always had a loving attitude," said 19-year-old David Fuentes, Rufino's son. "It's just overwhelming."

Family members told of the slaying by others offered differing accounts of what happened. David Fuentes said that he was told a group of people, including Oscar's aunt, were walking home from a baby shower when they were approached by someone outside asking for money. They ignored the request, David Fuentes said, and hustled into the second-floor apartment as Oscar let them in. As Oscar looked through the peephole, a shot came through the door, David Fuentes said.

Rufino Fuentes gave an account that excluded the man asking for money, and he said he was not sure whether the family members were being followed into their home. He did say that family members told Oscar to move away from the door.

At Monday's vigil, 3rd District Cmdr. George Kucik declined to discuss the specifics of the case.

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