CERES When Candelaria Lopez dropped off her son at a party Saturday night, she told his friend, "Take care of my Michael."
"'Mi hijo, when the party's over, call me,'" she said to her son, Michael Ilttreb.
Sheshookher headMonday at the memory. "He didn't call me again."
Lessthanthree hoursaftershe dropped him off, the 18-year-old lay in a back yard surrounded by rescue workers and friends, the victim of a gunshot wound to his face.
He was pronounced dead at Doctors Medical Center in Modesto a short time later, law enforcement officials said.
Friends and family gathered Monday evening in that back yard. They placed bright bouquets on blood-stained boards near his photograph and lighted candles that signified prayers for protection.
Details about the crime remain vague, said Ceres police Detective Sgt. Jeff Higginbotham.
"We have lots of people we need to talk to," he said. "And nobody at the party is ruled out."
The house party, near the 3000 block of 10th Street, turned violent in Sunday's early hours when shooting started around 2 a.m.
Ilttreb was the only victim; police do not know why shots were fired.
Friends say the wounded Ilttreb ran from the party, crossing the street to a friend's back yard after he was shot.
No arrests have been made, but police took two weapons into custody, said Higginbotham.
The shooting was the first homicide in Ceres since April, when two men died and a third was injured in a family dispute.
Lopez, who lives in Keyes, had not wanted to take her son to the party when he asked for a ride at 11:30 p.m.
"Mi hijo, it's late," she said she told him.
"No, Mama, it's party time," he said. "There's a lot of girls over there. Take me to the party, Mama."
Ilttreb liked parties. He liked dressing in nice clothes and dancing. All the clothes he wore to the party Saturday night were new, said his mother, bought from Marshall's, his favorite store.
"The baby" of nine siblings, Ilttreb was a normal 18-year-old, his family said.
Sister said he'd never been in trouble
"He wasn't a gangbanger," said his sister Matilda Lopez, 30, of San Jose. "He wasn't roaming around on the street committing crimes. He just wanted to go to a party."
Lopez said her brother had never been in trouble with the police or in Juvenile Hall.
"People hear bullet spray and think, 'Oh, he must have been a gangster.' He wasn't," Lopez said.
Ilttreb grew up in Ceres and attended Ceres High School, though he didn't graduate. He had left school and was thinking about getting his general education degree or working with a brother remodeling homes, his family said.
He lived with his mother and one sister in Keyes.
His siblings joked about how Ilttreb was the favorite.
"He was a good kid. I loved him a lot," his mother said. "I liked all my kids."
"See, she liked us," joked brother Jesus Lopez, 28, of Fresno, in a moment of levity during a teary afternoon.
Ilttreb and his mother used to visit ducks at a Turlock park or go out to eat at McDonald's and Wendy's. He loved Chinese food, his mother said.
She often gave him rides to visit his friends.
"Like a taxi, I go back and forth," she said. "That's my last baby."
At 58, she suffers from arthritis in her knee, among other health problems. Ilttreb would give her massages, and help her up when she needed to stand.
Sister Gloria Ochoa, 39, of Merced, remembered that her brother's room was always meticulous, his creams and hair gels and shoes always lined up neatly.
Family hasn't been allowed to see body
Jesus Lopez said one of his sisters called him Sunday to tell him about his brother's death. He said he was struggling to understand it.
"You see the world differently after news like that," he said. "When it's someone you saw as a baby, when he was brought home from the hospital, it just doesn't seem right. It's an empty feeling."
He said the family hopes, for the sake of closure, that Ceres police find the person who shot Ilttreb.
They have not been allowed to see his body, family members said.
The Stanislaus County coroner's office has a 24-hour hold on the body and expects to release it to the family and rule on the cause of death by this afternoon, a coroner's spokeswoman said.
Ilttreb's mother plans to purchase a tuxedo for her son's burial, which will take place later this week.
Though the family is grieving and confused, Matilda Lopez said, she and her siblings aren't angry.
"We don't hate anybody," she said.
She hopes her brother's death will help people reconsider how they handle guns, especially when drinking and parties are involved.
Many of the most difficult questions remain unanswered as the family waited Monday at Candelaria Lopez's home to learn more about what led to Ilttreb's death.
"I have a 5-year-old son, but I couldn't bring him here," Matilda Lopez said. "The first person he always looks for is Michael. I can't explain this to him right now."
Ceres police ask anyone with information about this homicide to call Detective Trenton Johnson at 538-5727 or Detective Sgt. Jeff Higginbotham at 538-5625.
Bee staff writer Emilie Raguso can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2235.