Parents held in death of Ceres toddler

CERES -- A 2-year-old girl died early Wednesday from a gunshot wound to her chest, and police are investigating the parents' statements that Cruzita Arellano shot herself.

Christina Castrillo, 24, and Felix Arellano, 26, told officers the shooting was accidental, Sgt. Allen McKay said. Police later arrested Castrillo on a child neglect charge and Arellano on suspicion of manslaughter and other charges after interviewing them most of the day.

"We have no reason to disbelieve the parents right now, but we will confirm what happened, like with all incidents," McKay said.

When they searched the southeast Ceres home, police found guns, drugs and a stolen vehicle, investigators said.

Officers brought Arellano and Castrillo into the police station for questioning and arrested them Wednesday afternoon, McKay said. Arellano faces charges of manslaughter, child neglect likely to produce great bodily injury, possession of stolen property and possession of controlled substances.

Castrillo faces a charge of child neglect likely to produce great bodily injury. She was being held Wednesday night in lieu of $35,000 bail. As of late Wednesday, Arellano was being held on $25,000 bail.

McKay said both were talking with police but he would not give details about their statements.

Another daughter, who was in the home when the 2-year-old was shot, was placed in the care of her maternal grandmother.

Police were called to the house in the 3400 block of Ninth Street at 7:40 a.m., McKay said. Are- llano carried the girl out of the house, according to neighbor Mitzie Cook. He and his daughter were covered in blood, she said.

"I heard someone yelling 'My baby! 'My baby!' Then I saw the little girl on the ground. She was naked and had blood all over her. (The dad) had blood on him. He'd carried her outside," Cook said.

The girl was taken to Memorial Medical Center in Modesto, where she was pronounced dead, McKay said.

Officers were stationed outside the tiny brown stucco house at Ninth Street and Roeding Road for hours Wednesday, marking evidence on the sidewalk and street. They also checked the house once a search warrant arrived. Officers called in the California Department of Justice Crime Lab for help with the investigation.

Inside, officers found what they called a relatively large amount of methamphetamine; two semiautomatic guns, in addition to the .380-caliber gun involved in Wednesday's shooting; a large sum of cash; a stolen all-terrain vehicle; and other items police believe are stolen, McKay said.

"We're dealing with drugs, stolen property, a convicted felon with guns, a child accidentally shot this morning. This is stuff we simply can't just walk away from," he said.

A search of court records showed Arellano was convicted twice, in 2001 and 2004, of felony possession of narcotics. A burglary charge last year was dismissed.

McKay noted that felons are not allowed to have guns or ammunition.

Police say the toddler's death was a sobering reminder of why guns should be kept away from children, unloaded and locked.

"Guns have to be kept out of the hands of juveniles. Kids are curious, they just have to play with them," McKay said. "This is the kind of thing that happens when kids have access to handguns. ... This little girl had no idea what she was doing. She had no idea what she picked up. She picked up something that looked like a toy to her."

McKay added that the gun locks given out free by law enforcement would have prevented Cruzita's death.

Bee staff writer Eve Hightower and Assistant Librarian Karen Aiello contributed to this report. Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at mhatfield@modbee.com or 578-2339.

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