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Tenth anniversary of drive-by shooting death

Posted: August 15, 2008 8:48 p.m.
Updated: October 17, 2008 5:03 a.m.

Robert Medrano, 27, from Newhall, waters the flowers on Robert Aguilera Jr.'s sanctuary outside his home, Friday afternoon. Today marks the 10-year anniversary of his brother-in-law's death. Aguilera was 20 years old when he was killed in a drive-by shooting.

 

The night he was shot and killed in a drive-by gang shooting, 20-year-old Robert Aguilera had learned he was going to have a son.

That boy, Andrew Aguilera, now 10, was born and raised never having met the man who had taken his first steps away from gang violence and onto a road of maturity, responsibility and respectability.

Robert Aguilera, gunned down on the street where he lived, turned his life around the day he became a father, said a man who calls him his big brother.

Robert Medrano, Aguilera's brother-in-law, was 17 years old when Aguilera was killed in front of him in a drive-by shooting on Arch Street at the corner of Sixth Street in Newhall.

Friday night marked the 10th anniversary of the shooting - a small candlelight vigil of friends, family and neighbors around a tiny, red brick monument the size of a chimney top, just knee-high by the sidewalk where he collapsed.

"To me, it seems like it happened last week," said Medrano, recalling the murder when he and his younger brother watched Aguilera fall to the sidewalk in front of them.

For him, Aguilera died a hero, having stepped in front of a hail of gunfire from a rival gang's car.

"They saw us first. If it wasn't for him, we'd be dead," he said.

"He was a good honest man. He was the kind of person who would help people," he added, not shying away from Aguilera's troubles as a gang member.

"He never killed (anybody)," Medrano said. "He never did time for anything.

"I was young and dumb at the time; he was young and dumb at the time," he explained. "The day he passed away he found out he was going to have another, a boy. That day he was happy."

That day also was remembered Friday night for the violence that scarred a quiet sliver of the Santa Clarita Valley that remains hidden in plain sight on the east side of the Metrolink railway tracks in east Newhall.

The roadside shrine made of bricks, with a cross affixed to its center and balanced with flowers arranged at two of its corners, serves as a daily reminder to a not-so-distant violent past.

On Friday, the shrine stood front and center, anchoring a neighborhood that had come together to honor one of its own native sons.

"Stevenson Ranch has its neighborhood watch - this is our neighborhood watch," Medrano said, reflecting on the community's respect for its own.

Aguilera's slaying marked Santa Clarita Valley's first drive-by shooting death in 10 years, and it's been 10 years since anything like it has happened again in the hard-bitten community east of Railroad Avenue.

Arrests were quickly made in connection with the slaying.

People went to prison.

"I don't hate them. What goes around comes around," Medrano said. "I'm not the violent type."

As he began moving away from gang life, after the birth of his daughter, Lisette, now 11, Aguilera started helping others at the nearby community center.

"He did a lot of community service. He was in the Team Group at the community center."

One of the people whose lives Aguilera turned around was Medrano, who has five siblings but no older brother.

"I've been having some hard times with this," he said. "He was like an older brother. He showed me things - how to man-up, showed me right things, never bad things, ever since he had his kid."

Ten years ago, neighbors of this tight community gathered on the street as they did Friday night, drinking beer and talking, when at 10:10 p.m. Aug. 15, 1998, a white Ford Mustang and a blue Honda rolled down Arch Street.

As the two cars drove by Medrano, his brother, and Robert Aguilera, a passenger in the Mustang opened fire.

Ironically, with the death, the neighborhood remained relatively quiet for the decade that followed, Medrano said.

"Everything calmed down after that."

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