A fight with a 13-year-old Huron Middle School classmate landed 14-year-old Diego Perez in Fresno County juvenile hall, family and friends said. Last week, Diego finally got an ankle monitor removed that he had been required to wear and was hoping to get his life back on track and get back to playing basketball.
Instead, he was gunned down outside a Huron apartment complex last week. Family and friends say the shooter was the 13-year-old boy he had fought.
The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office is still investigating the slaying. A 13-year-old was arrested in Huron shortly after the killing, but his name has not been released because of his age, the sheriff’s office said. The Fresno County Probation Department, which oversees the county’s juvenile justice system, declined to comment.
Victoria Velasquez says she was close with Diego after her son became friends with him at Calwa Elementary School. Diego would spend a lot of time at her house and would often refer to her as ‘mom,’ she said. Velasquez said Diego and his family were living in Calwa until about a year ago, when they moved to Huron. “He would still come to visit,” she said. “He stayed with us in the summer.”
She believes the shooting was retaliation for the fight and that the boy who allegedly shot Perez was in a gang. But she and Diego’s father say Diego was not in a gang, and that he was looking forward to playing basketball in a youth league soon.
“I said, ‘you can’t do this,’ ” Velasquez recalls telling Diego over the phone about the school fight. “You gotta get right if you want to play basketball. And he said, ‘I know, mom, I know.’ ”
Diego’s father, Jose Rafael Perez Peralta Rafita, who lives in Guatemala, said after the fight Diego was sent to juvenile hall and had an ankle monitor put on.
I just always made sure to tell him how much I loved him.
Jose Rafael Perez Peralta Rafita, father of Diego Perez
Diego’s mother, Tricia Sease, did not respond to requests for comment. She noted in a Facebook post, however, that Diego had gotten his ankle monitor off just days before the shooting. He was given probation and 40 hours of community service. She said Diego had come out of juvenile hall changed for the better.
“All he did was cry in there and say, Mama, I want to come home,” she wrote on June 8. “So I’m really hoping he stays this way, he said he did not like it at all.”
Rafita believes his son didn’t start the fight at Huron Middle School, but that he had won. He believes his son was targeted by gang members.
Gang members “target children who have shaky families,” said Rafita, “and trust me, my child was struggling to survive.”
Rafita said the last time he saw his son was in 2008 when the boy was 6, before Rafita was deported to Guatemala. He said he raised Diego and his siblings by himself in Southern California until he was deported. That’s when they moved to Fresno to be with their mother.
When Rafita last spoke on the phone with Diego, he said the two didn’t talk much. He said Diego struggled with the notion that his father had abandoned him. Diego often asked if he could move to his grandmother’s home in Rialto, but he was unable to, Rafita said.
Diego’s father said he served in the U.S. Navy before he was deported, and recalled his son dressing up as a soldier as a child. He also remembers taking Diego fishing years ago. “We used to go...where there is a fishery with ponds and we used to ‘cheat,’ as the fish are rather easy to get,” he said, “and he used to get excited about it.”
Velasquez said she just wants justice for Diego, and for the other boy to understand what he did. She said the boy’s age doesn’t excuse what he did, but that he could have been influenced by others. “As long as I knew him, Diego was a good boy,” she said. “He didn’t deserve to go down like this.”
Diego’s older brother has set up a Go Fund Me page to help with funeral expenses for those wanting to help.