Giovanii (Gio) Ramirez, 15

The Northeast San Fernando Valley, which is one of the areas of the city with the highest rates of COVID-19, is also facing another pandemic — a surge in shootings that has left at least two people dead and one injured in the first days of 2021.

The latest victim, Giovanii (Gio) Ramirez, 15, was visiting a young cousin battling cancer when he was gunned down inside the Pierce Park apartment complex along the 12700 block of Van Nuys Boulevard, near Borden Street in Pacoima.

When news of Ramirez’ death hit social media, local residents were quick to share their concern, posting (in some instances) graphic photos of police surrounding the young boy’s body, and also lamenting the level of violence in the community.

“Sad that our children can’t even be safe out there. We need to do better for our kids. This is very heartbreaking,” wrote Liz Bello.

“It is happening too much lately,” lamented Maribel Correa Puentes.

Rise in Homicides

Los Angeles has experienced more than double the number of homicides during the first 12 days of 2021 than during the same period of 2020, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said on Tuesday, Jan. 12.

Moore said 19 homicides have been reported so far this year, including three men who were killed in South Los Angeles within six hours of each other on Sunday.

The city had nine homicides during the same period in 2020.

“Shooting violence has continued at a velocity that does need a great deal of concern,” Moore said during Tuesday’s Los Angeles Police Commission meeting. “Of the 19 homicides, 12 we know right now, we believe, are involved in gangs or are gang-related in one fashion or another.”

Moore added that the department is concerned about “a number of individuals that are on high-risk probation” and may be contributing to the increase in violence. He said that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the ability of probation officers to supervise people on probation, and law enforcement officers may have to step in to provide added supervision.

Pacoima has been the site of several attacks since the start of the year.

On Jan. 6, Herbert Nixon Flores shot and killed ex-girlfriend, Karen Ruiz, as she dropped off their 3-year-old daughter at the babysitter’s home in the 9000 block of Bartee Avenue, near the corner of Arleta Avenue and Wentworth Street.

That same day, a 33-year-old man was wounded in an apparent drive-by shooting along the 13900 block of Weidner Street, near Laurel Canyon Boulevard. When police arrived at the location, they found the victim with gunshot wounds. Police said a dark-colored sedan was seen leaving the area.

Moore said he spoke with gang intervention specialists working in the South Los Angeles and Hollenbeck divisions in an effort to find strategies to curb the increase in violence.

Some of the suggestions included increasing training for interventionists, adding staffing and ensuring new interventionists and ambassadors are able to coordinate their efforts with the Los Angeles Police Department to reduce violence.

Moore said interventionist staffing had been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, and that the department was working to provide them with additional COVID-19 rapid tests so they would not have to wait for results — and could in turn — get back into the field quicker.

Ramirez Shooting

Police have not said what led to the Pacoima shooting that claimed the life of Gio Ramirez. The incident took place at around 6 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 11. But the murder has left a family trying to understand what happened — what for them is incomprehensible.

“15 years old….A whole life ahead of him taken away by a senseless act. So much potential we’ll never get to see him live out. It’s hard to put into words the pain we’re all feeling, but we know God is close to the brokenhearted so we will continue to put our trust in Him,” wrote Blanca Estevane on a GoFundMe ( account opened to help with funeral expenses.

Lilly Chavez, Ramirez’ aunt, said the teen had recently switched to the North Valley Military Institute, described him as a kid who liked to play video games online with cousins, and was a “little helper” to his grandma.

“He liked to spend a lot of time with grandma. He helps grandma clean and organize, take the trash out,” Chavez said.

On the day of the attack, Ramirez — who lived in Sylmar — was visiting uncles who live in the apartment complex.

She said he had just helped unload groceries and “was walking back to get a ride and that’s when the incident happened.”

She added Ramirez’ younger brother, Leo, 11, “saw when the incident happened and saw his brother pass. That’s very traumatizing for him. He’s going to need some counseling.”

Mistaken Identity and Gangs

Someone who knew Ramirez (and who asked not to be identified) described him as a “very respectful person who would always say ‘hi’ and he knew everyone in the building. He wouldn’t look for no trouble.”

The person said Ramirez “was confronted by the suspects and then got into an altercation with the suspects.”

The person also said Ramirez had recently “been put into a gang just a few days before his death.”

Some social postings have shown people lamenting Ramirez’ death while flashing what appear to be gang signs.

Chavez said that, as far as the family knows, “he may have socialized with gang members, but he was never part of a gang.”

The shooting may be the result of a mistaken identity.

“(The two suspects arrested) were looking for another gentleman that lives in the projects and these guys thought my nephew was that person,” said Chavez, who added that she now worries for Ramirez’ brother.

“I don’t feel safe he’s there,” she said.

She also said that there are security cameras in the apartment complex, but they don’t work.

“What’s the point of having cameras that don’t function and can’t capture incidents like these senseless acts that happened?” Chavez questioned.

Several other people who say they knew Ramirez described him as a good kid.

“He was a very good boy. He was in Military School with my daughter,” shared Anna Martinez on Facebook.

“Gio was one-of-a-kind. He was genuine, funny, honest, and intelligent,” wrote Ricardo Oregon, who donated to his GoFundMe account. “I am grateful to have been his teacher in 7th grade and to have many beautiful memories of him. My deepest condolences to his family and loved ones.”

“Gio was a bright student who always had a smile for someone in need. His energy and happiness was unmatched. His loss will be felt by everyone he touched,” wrote Brandy Brown.

“Gio was a thoughtful, caring, helpful, funny, and incredibly smart student. I feel very lucky to have had the chance to experience his brightness every day in 6th grade,” expressed Evan Diamond.

Two Arrests Made

When police responded to the scene, they found Ramirez’ body “laying in the grass in the courtyard of an apartment complex. He was unconscious and not breathing. [And] he was suffering from multiple gunshot wounds,” according to a police report.

A video on social media shows police officers trying to provide first aid to a young man lying down on the ground as a group of onlookers stands nearby. Another video shared with the San Fernando Sun/El Sol newspaper by a local resident shows a large number of police officers and paramedics around a body draped with a white sheet.

A 9-1-1 caller reported two teenage boys fled the scene after the shooting.

“Simultaneously, another police unit saw the suspects matching the description running inside a local market. The suspects were taken into custody,” the report stated.

The suspects were identified as 21-year-old Walter Smith, 21, and Ja’Ree Robertson, 18, both African American and who now face charges of murder. They remain in custody in lieu of  $2 million bail.

A person who spoke with theSan Fernando Sun/El Sol newspaper said the suspects reportedly “lived in Lancaster and were supposed to fight some other guy in the building,” but apparently crossed paths with Ramirez and an altercation ensued.

Ramirez’ aunt said, “justice is not served there. There’s a little piece of closure because these guys who did this to my nephew are not out there anymore.”

But she stressed more security is needed in the area.

“They need to have more security, do more for the community. It’s not fair this continues to happen.”

Anyone with information about the Jan. 11 shooting can call the Los Angeles Police Department, at (818) 374-1925, and speak with Valley Bureau homicide Detective Steve Castro.