Ashley carried the large ball she loves to toss at the park as they walked to the bus stop outside the McDonald's restaurant. She placed the plastic orb on the pavement as they waited by the shelter.
Within minutes, the memories of special outings with grandma and frolicking in the park on a sunny Sunday were shattered by a gunshot. Ashley ran, as glass from the bus stop shelter shattered. A bullet tore through Ashley's ball, leaving a flattened mass on the sidewalk, and another tore through her grandmother's foot.
As a series of loud bangs pierced the air, Susana saw her granddaughter fall down. As she ran for cover to McDonald's, her right foot felt very hot.
"I was bleeding a lot. Then I couldn't see anymore. I was afraid I would die with all the blood. I was just asking to get my granddaughter close," she said, recalling that she was losing consciousness.
Five people were shot that afternoon at the bus stop, in full daylight and plain view of everyone on the street: the people sitting at tables inside McDonald's, the cars whizzing by and the pedestrians on their way to and from Cinco de Mayo parties or shopping at the nearby La Estrellita Market. Susana and Ashley instantly became statistics in East Palo Alto's long history of casualties of gun and gang violence. They were innocent bystanders with no connection to the shooters or the four other victims — young men police suspect were targeted in a gang-related incident.
They were also lucky.
Ashley sustained cuts to her leg from the flying glass and falling to the pavement. The emotional scars are harder to erase.
A bright, perky child with pigtails, Ashley isn't shy with a stranger. But one of the first things she'll say is that she's seeing a psychologist. Asked how her leg is doing, she doesn't respond.
At the clinic they go to, there is a waiting list to see a psychologist. The only help they could get for the emotional trauma was the school psychologist, her mother, "Monica," said.
"She is very afraid to go outside. When she sees a group of boys about the same age, she says, 'They are really bad. They have guns,'" Monica said.
In the converted garage Ashley shares with her mother and grandparents, a multitude of pink stuffed animals — many teddy bears — were neatly arranged on the double bed she shares with Monica. Crucifixes and pictures of princesses, Tinkerbell and the Little Mermaid hang from the walls.
Sitting beside her mother on the bed on Wednesday afternoon, Ashley chose a pseudonym for this story. The family fears retribution after witnessing a gang-related crime. She leaned against Monica and whispered softly, "Disney." More than anything, Ashley said she wants to go to Disneyland — to the "The Happiest Place on Earth" — where she can get her picture taken with her favorite characters.
Susana lay on the room's other double bed, her heavily bandaged foot propped on a pillow. Her bloodstained sneaker has a bullet hole near the base of the big toe; the exit is on the diagonal, about where the pinky toe would be. The bullet shot through two toes. What she wants most is to walk again, she said.
Susana is the main breadwinner for her family, and she needs to return to work. She can't stand up or put any weight on the foot. On Thursday, she planned to visit the doctor. She was hoping to have good news for a full recovery, she said.
"She is one of the hardest-working people I have ever known," said friend Barrett Moore, a volunteer at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church Dining Room, where Susana works to feed the needy. She delivers food to area churches and to the San Mateo County Jail to feed prisoners, she said.
Moore said Susana is paler since the shooting. Ten days after the incident, she still takes medicine to ease the sharp, penetrating pain.
The emotional trauma is also deep.
"I don't feel like I want to go out. Tomorrow is the first day I will go out — to go to the doctor. But I don't want the day to arrive. God willing, I will overcome this," Susana said.
But she feels lucky because she was not killed, she added.
"The priest at the church said, 'All of the angels were protecting you because they want you to bring more food to the churches,'" she said.
The family hasn't heard much from other people about whether the brazen shooting has frightened the community.
"We are too busy always working to know many people," Monica said.
There's a certain irony in that statement. Monica said the crime problem in East Palo Alto is in part caused "because parents work a lot, and kids are not getting attention."
Innocent bystanders are rarely shot in East Palo Alto. But three high-profile cases have occurred in the city in the last two years, including the one involving Susana and Ashley. The most notable was 3-month-old Izack Jesus Jimenez Garcia, who was shot in the head and killed on June 5, 2011.
East Palo Alto Councilwoman Lisa Yarbrough-Gauthier said recently the shooting that involved Susana and Ashley has many in the community struggling to find answers for how to change the thinking of young gang members.
"I just can't even figure the mindset of somebody who does this," she said.
Police and city officials vowed on May 6 to hammer hard on two gangs believed responsible for a surge in violence in the city since January.
But after 20 years, Susana and her family plan to move out of the city, they said.
"Every night we hear shootings. I am very afraid — more for my daughter," Monica said.
She said she doesn't hate the people who shot her mother and traumatized her child.
"I'm just really, really saddened that they are so young and killing themselves," she said.
This story contains 1062 words.
Stories older than 90 days are available only to subscribing members. Please help sustain quality local journalism by becoming a subscribing member today.
If you are already a subscriber, please log in so you can continue to enjoy unlimited access to stories and archives. Subscriptions start at $5 per month and may be cancelled at any time.