LOS ANGELES -- Eleven-year-old Cristal Anguio had been warned repeatedly to be careful when outside her family's modest home in South-Central Los Angeles. Her neighborhood's mean streets were no place for a youngster.
But on Sunday afternoon, the allure of a passing ice-cream truck was too much for Cristal. Clutching her brother, 2-year-old Rafael, in her arms, she ran outside to buy ice cream. The fifth-grader only got a few steps from the doorway of her wood-frame home before she was struck in the upper chest by an errant bullet, fired in the midst of a gun battle between rival street gangs.
Miraculously, Rafael was unharmed. Cristal, whose heart had been pierced by the bullet, managed to carry her brother to safety, and then collapsed in the doorway of the house, telling her horrified parents, "I don't feel good."
The youngster was near death when she was taken to Martin Luther King Jr.-Drew Medical Center. Physicians operated several times in order to save the girl's life, extracting the bullet from her heart, officials said.
Yesterday, Cristal was in critical but stable condition, and family members and neighbors praised her selflessness in carrying her brotherto safety. Rafael seemed unaware of how lucky a 2-year-old he was.
"That was the first thing she did, bringing Rafael to the front door," Cristal's aunt, Hermenina Anguio, recalled yesterday. "We didn't know she was hurt until she said something."
Authorities said that the youngster was yet another innocent victim of the ever-present war between rival gangs in that part of Los Angeles. It is a neighborhood where children are forced to grow up too fast and parents think constantly about escaping the violence for the safety of their kids.
Police Lt. Bruce Hagerty described the low-income area as a place with a long-standing problem with street gangs and drugs. "She was just an innocent bystander," he said.