Mom free in child's death

A small memorial in front of the Castrillo-Arellano home on Ninth Street in Ceres for 2-year-old Cruzita Arellano.
A small memorial in front of the Castrillo-Arellano home on Ninth Street in Ceres for 2-year-old Cruzita Arellano. Modesto Bee

The father of a 2-year-old who might have shot herself in the chest was in Stanislaus County Superior Court on Friday to be arraigned on a child endangerment charge and five other felonies, but the district attorney's office declined to press charges against the toddler's mother.

Felix Martinez Arellano II, 26, was given time to hire an attorney, so he has not entered any pleas.

Christina Castrillo, 24, was released from custody hours earlier.

"We don't have a crime, we believe, that we can prove against her," Chief Deputy District Attorney John Goold said.

A dozen family members attended the hearing to support Arellano, who was in shackles and wore a green-and- white-striped jumpsuit. They declined to comment, but some grumbled that what happened is a tragedy, not a crime. Arellano remains in custody, held in lieu of $500,000 bail. He is scheduled to return to court Oct. 29.

Ceres police were called to the home in the 3400 block of Ninth Street at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, when Arellano and Castrillo told authorities their toddler, Cruzita Arellano, accidentally had shot herself in the chest with a .380-caliber handgun while they slept on a living room couch.

Neighbors said they heard Arellano screaming "My baby, my baby," as he waited for help on the walkway in front of his home. The child was taken to Memorial Medical Center in Modesto, where she was pronounced dead.

2 ounces of meth found

The police said they are examining the bullet's path, fingerprinting the gun and checking evidence of gun residue to determine how the child was shot. They said the couple appeared to be high on drugs, though they will not have the results of blood tests for a few weeks.

The police found 2 ounces of methamphetamine in the house; that appears to be the basis for two of the charges prosecutors have lodged against Arellano, including possessing a controlled substance while in possession of a firearm and possessing a controlled substance for sale.

Police also said they found a stolen all-terrain vehicle, which may be the basis for a charge of receiving stolen property. Other items retrieved after the police obtained a search warrant for the home included cash, two more handguns and surveillance equipment.

Arellano also is charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. According to court records, he was convicted of drug possession in 2001 and 2004, and second-degree burglary in 2005. He also is charged with participating in a Norteño street gang.

The main charge Arellano faces, permitting a child to suffer under circumstances likely to cause great bodily injury or death, carries a sentence of one year in county jail or up to six years in prison.

Checked for meth exposure

The couple's other child, 2-month-old Delilah, was placed with her grandmother, Cynthia Castrillo. Later, she was re- moved by Child Protective Services to be checked for exposure to methamphetamine and related chemicals, police said.

Israel Arellano, 5, Felix Arellano's son from a previous relationship, had been living with his grandmother and other family members. He, too, was taken by CPS, said Veronica Arellano, Felix Arellano's sister.

A custody hearing is scheduled Monday morning to deter- mine who should care for the children, Veronica Arellano said as she and about 70 other people attended a candlelight vigil Friday night at the site of the shooting.

Arellano's relatives are trying to raise money for the child's funeral. They will hold a fund-raiser carwash today from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the 7-Eleven at McHenry and Morris avenues in Modesto. Anyone wanting to contribute to Cruzita's funeral also can donate to an account in her name at any Bank of America branch.

Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at sherendeen@modbee.com or 578-2338.

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