Ten white crosses were planted in the grass at Villa-Parke Community Center in Pasadena, representing lives lost to gun violence.
One cross at the front — propped against a vase of blue and white flowers — bore the name of the latest victim, 13-year-old Iran Moreno.
Two days after a bullet careened through Iran’s bedroom window and killed him while he was playing video games, more than 100 people, including residents, city leaders and police officers, gathered for a vigil.
Many held small flameless candles and listened as musicians played, “Te vas ángel mío” or “You’re leaving, my angel.” Teenagers who went to school with Moreno held arms around one another in comfort.
“I can’t tell you how much it pains me to be here. This is a position that no parent should ever be in,” Pasadena Mayor Victor Gordo told the gathered crowd. “We have to do things differently in Pasadena.”
The vigil followed pledges from authorities to bolster police patrols and try to get guns off the street.
In the last two years, the Pasadena Police Department has confiscated more than 700 firearms, many from vehicles, waistbands and from residences as a result of search warrants, Deputy Chief Cheryl Moody said at a news conference on the steps of City Hall. Of those, 250 have been seized since January 2021.
“The threat of gun violence is a true danger, and the Pasadena Police Department is working diligently to get guns off the streets and out of the hands of those who intend to harm others,” Moody said. The department will continue in its commitment to bring on extra patrols and intelligence gathering, “to combat this rash of shootings.”
“But we need your help,” she said. “We believe that there are people in the community and elsewhere that may have information and may help to stop the violence and bring those responsible to justice. We ask that you please come forward.”
Police believe that a stray bullet struck Iran when he was in his bedroom about 6 p.m. Saturday. He managed to stumble out of his room, clutching the wound, and then collapsed, family members said.
Iran was taken to Huntington Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
For two days, Pasadena police officers have been working to find evidence or information that could lead to the shooter.
Investigators don’t believe Iran or his family were targeted.
“This was not the intended victim,” Moody said. “This was not the intended dwelling. We don’t know who they were shooting at or why.”
On Monday afternoon, 27-year-old Maria Balvaneda, Iran’s cousin, stood with her hands clasped in front of dozens of flickering candles that formed a growing memorial for the boy. The family has lived in Pasadena for about 15 years.
Balvaneda lives in a rear house on the same property as Iran and his parents.
She told The Times that on the evening of shooting, she heard two pops she thought were fireworks. She’d been getting ready to go out with her parents to a family gathering when her mother noticed flashing lights.
She stepped outside and saw her aunt and uncle standing by a tree. They told her Iran was shot and on his way to the hospital. She tried to console them, but her uncle was particularly shaken.
“My son died in my arms,” she recalled her uncle saying. “I know he’s gone.”
On Monday, Iran’s parents and siblings were struggling with the loss, Balvaneda said. Her uncle hasn’t wanted to eat and can’t get up on his own.
“All they’ve been doing is crying, him asking for his son, to bring his baby back,” she said. “It’s just very heartbreaking.”
Iran, she said, “had a great future ahead of him.” He loved basketball and soccer and excelled at school. He had three siblings and was the youngest boy.
She lamented the violence: “There’s always shooting, always gang violence around. They’re always hurting the most innocent people.”
Gordo, speaking Monday outside City Hall, pledged to “do things differently.”
“We can’t continue to take the same approach to public safety in this city or in the region and expect different results,” Gordo said.
The mayor said officials recently called on the Police Department to step up enforcement and increase the number of officers on the street.
“I renew my request that the Pasadena Police Department better and more thoroughly engage individuals who are engaged in gang activity and criminal activity throughout the city,” he said. “It has to start right here, right now. We cannot wait for another child or another member of this community to be harmed.”
Councilmember Jessica Rivas, whose district has been affected by shootings, said “we can’t police ourselves out of this.”
“This is a much larger problem, and it’s one that we must solve,” Rivas said.
At the vigil, attendees held signs that read “community unity” and “protect our kids.”
Iran’s family did not speak, and the crowd held up candles as they observed a moment of silence in honor of the teen.
“We want to remember Iran not just as a statistic or a number, but for who he was,” Jose Madera, a Pasadena resident, told the crowd. “He is our rose. Our Pasadena rose.”
Speakers at the vigil urged city leaders to ensure that the Moreno family be taken care of, including helping them with funeral expenses and therapy.
Mayor Gordo told the crowd that, “we as a city and our city resources will be there for this young man and his family.”
Many speakers cited the issue of violence in the community and urged residents to come together to solve it.
“We don’t want to see SWAT teams coming into our neighborhoods, persecuting, going after young men, young women of color,” said Pablo Alvarado, co-executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, prompting the crowd to break out in applause.
Alvarado said the community wants the police to do their jobs, but “we also want to see therapists, psychologists, social workers.”
Among the teenagers gathered that night was 13-year-old Sherry Villegas, who sat next to Iran in science class. He used to help her with schoolwork, and the two would play tic-tac-toe together.
Tears streamed down her face and under her white mask as she listened to the musicians play.
“It kind of shattered me a lot and it broke me,” she said. “It sucks, because I feel like I really can’t be safe anywhere. Especially in Pasadena.”
Times staff writer Gregory Yee contributed to this report.