Hope fades for Modesto boy

Shooting victim, 10, is brain-dead

July 30, 2009 

The 10-year-old Modesto boy shot Tuesday night is brain-dead, authorities said Thursday. The child was being kept alive by life support equipment, said Deputy District Attorney Tom Brennan.

The boy was shot in the head about 11:30 p.m. in the living room of a house in the 100 block of Santa Barbara Avenue in Modesto. Witnesses said two men drove up to the house, got out of the car, opened fire, then drove off. A 29-year-old Modesto man, Jason Cyphers, was killed in the shooting.

No arrests have been made, said police Detective Darren Ruskamp. One witness described a green Saturn with a rust or burgundy driver's side door at the shooting, but police don't believe that vehicle was involved, said Ruskamp.

Brennan put some of the blame for the shooting on the boy's father, 34-year-old Epifanio Ramirez, a gun-toting drug dealer who's been to prison three times. Ramirez has links to the Norteño street gang, Brennan said.

"There's no question in my mind that Epifanio Ramirez is partly responsible for the (shooting) of his 10-year-old son," Brennan said. "The gang lifestyle is ultra-violent. You're living an extremely high-risk lifestyle and when a gang member shacks up with an innocent person, either a girlfriend or a 10-year-old child, he's putting that person in harm's way."

Authorities are not releasing the boy's name. Neighbors described him as a "little angel" and a "sweet little guy" who was always "running, jumping and playing." Brennan said other children lived in the home, but he didn't know how many or how old they are.

Court records and Bee archives provide a glimpse into the child's troubled background. His mother, April Peeples, also has a criminal history. She could not be reached Thursday. The boy's maternal grandmother was murdered at age 17, her strangled body found in a west Modesto vineyard.

Ramirez had custody of the child, said Brennan. It's not known where Peeples was at the time of the shooting. She has visited the child in the hospital, said Brennan.

Arrests and prison time

Ramirez's criminal career dates to 1994. In 2000, when his son was about a year old, Ramirez was convicted on a felony charge of meth possession. He was sent to prison for 16 months.

Meanwhile, Peeples had her own run-ins with the law, court records show. In 2000, she was arrested on a drug charge; the charges were dropped five months later. Peeples has been arrested about eight times. Most recently she was charged with drug possession; the charges were dropped in mid-May.

About that time, Ramirez was released from his third stint in prison. Shortly afterward, he was arrested on suspicion of meth possession. Under Proposition 36, the state law that mandates treatment instead of jail time for drug offenders, Ramirez was released and put on probation, said Brennan.

Police kept tabs on Ramirez. They watched the house on Santa Barbara Avenue where he lived with his son. Police saw drug deals at the house, said Brennan.

In June, probation officers searched the house. They found surveillance equipment, a police scanner and a small amount of meth, said Brennan. They also reported finding a loaded .357 Magnum, a loaded sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun, a loaded sawed-off rifle and about 70 rounds of ammunition. On July 16, a federal grand jury indicted Ramirez on federal weapons charges.

On Tuesday, two men opened fire on Ramirez's house. Ramirez lost a finger in the shooting. He was air-lifted to a Bay Area hospital for surgery to amputate the finger. When he was released from the hospital, agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arrested Ramirez on the federal charges. On Thursday, he was transferred to the Fresno County jail.

Acting Police Chief Mike Harden said Tuesday's shooting was "sickening," but he cautioned that the violence wasn't random. "There was a relationship of some kind between the suspects and the victims," said Harden. "Rest assured that these are not indiscriminate acts of violence occurring."

Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at lalbrecht@modbee.com or 578-2378. Staff writer Merrill Balassone contributed to this report.

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