The shotgun pellet is lodged in his right arm, a fraction of an inch below the skin, snug against the ulna bone.
Cristian Dominguez points to the dime-sized scar above his right wrist. It will be there all his days, he knows, and he’ll wear it like a soldier brandishing a shiny medal. It will remind him of horror, fear, chaos and, above all, family strength.
Nearly a year ago, Dominguez – the quiet, earnest sophomore wrestler for Central Catholic – joined his father, David, in fighting off five gunmen in their Salida home. Up a short flight of stairs is where Cristian took them on while David pulled in the robbers’ guard at the door, then absorbed the shotgun blast that wounded the son and reduced the father’s back to a mass of holes and crevices.
Meanwhile, the mother, Martha Dominguez, and then-11-year-old son D’Angelo rushed toward safety outside. The Dominguez family fiercely held their ground and won. Incredibly, Cristian attended classes the next day.
“Some people think of me as a hero,” he said. “I see it as protecting my family.”
The episode alone would have sold books. But as life sometimes insists, there would be more drama for one Cristian Dominguez.
How is it possible that 36 hours after the attack, Dominguez wins his first-round match at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters? And then he’s disqualified due in part to that pellet? And then he and his angered family threaten to send him anywhere but Central Catholic? And then, after they elect to keep him at CC, he suffers a broken foot on the football field? And then, about three weeks ago, Martha and D’Angelo survive a wicked accident that totals the family van?
“I wonder why it’s all happening,” Cristian admitted. “It’s tried to slow me down, but it really keeps me going.”
The mat works perfectly as Dominguez’s sanctuary. He’s 30-4 and is ranked sixth in the section at 160 pounds and last week won his bracket at the Valley Oak League championships. His cauliflowered right ear signals a wrestler who’s seen far worse than a tough guy in a singlet.
One-on-one conflict no doubt is a snap compared to the nightmares he sometimes endures, or the therapy he required after the break-in.
“I didn’t feel safe at school and was nervous and thought that all eyes were on me,” he said. “I thought there were people who loved me and people who were mad at me.”
Dominguez, though he passed the routine pre-meet inspection by Masters officials, was disqualified after Central Catholic athletic director Billy Hylla realized the family had not produced a doctor’s release allowing him to wrestle. It was a thankless task for Hylla, who represented a school clearly worried about injuries – or a lawsuit – resulting from the gunshot wound.
When Hylla broke the news, David Dominguez screamed while Cristian burst into tears. His win was forfeited, and the section’s biggest meet of the year went on without him. By nightfall, Cristian threatened via social media to leave Central Catholic.
“Cristian has always been a good kid. He got angry and responded like any 15-year-old would,” Hylla remembered. “I’ve always rooted for him. He’s a talented kid with a big heart.”
Still, the weeks after the Masters were clouded in crisis. School-wise, Dominguez seriously considered switching to either Pitman or Oakdale.
“I thought I had no support from my school. That’s how I saw it. I worked all year for the Masters,” Dominguez said. “I understood they were looking out for my safety, but I wanted to go to state.”
Fact was, the Dominguezes had larger issues. Their home was badly damaged, and the stairway was blood-spattered. They lived in rentals around Modesto while they pondered moves closer to relatives in Clovis and San Jose.
David, with help from family members, eventually remodeled the Salida home. They made the living and family rooms more open, more airy and less connected to the home invasion. The family was delighted to celebrate its homecoming about a month and a half ago.
As for the case, there is nothing new. Deputy Anthony Bejaran, a spokesman for the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department, confirmed there are no new leads, arrests or even suspects.
The decision for Dominguez to stay at Central Catholic seems to be a success. He continues to get good grades and likes the potential springboard from CC to college.
“I feel better coming back this year,” he said. “I feel my teachers supporting me. They congratulate me after I win.”
But last October at Weston Ranch while making a tackle for the Raiders’ junior varsity football team, Dominguez – playing middle linebacker – was caught in the undertow between a teammate and the ballcarrier. He broke his left foot.
Though he recovered for wrestling, his conditioning slowed. Thus, he’s locked in at 160, rather than his preferred 138, for the postseason. It was typical of him to toss away the ankle brace a few weeks ago and forge forward.
So have his loved ones, who’ve grown closer through tough times. Older brother Dominic, a former wrestler at Gregori, shakes his head as he scans the refurbished rooms around him.
“We’re so aware now,” Dominic said. “You have to go through it to know about it.”
In many ways, Cristian’s relentlessness serves as a family metaphor.
Because if anything or anyone again threatens to hurt him, he’ll find power and resilience in that spot on his arm, his painful souvenir from that rainy thunderstruck night.
The night he became a man.