Deaths that haunt: Police still hunting for Baby Rashad’s killer, among 2016 Fresno homicides

Rashad Halford Jr., 20 months old, was shot to death June 22, 2016 as he sat outside with his parents on a warm summer night near South First Street and East Platt Avenue.
Rashad Halford Jr., 20 months old, was shot to death June 22, 2016 as he sat outside with his parents on a warm summer night near South First Street and East Platt Avenue. Special to The Bee

The shooting death of a 20-month-old Fresno toddler, who died in front of his parents in June, remains a top-priority Fresno murder case that detectives are eager to solve as 2016 ends.

Rashad Halford Jr. was shot to death on June 22 as he sat outside with his parents on a warm summer night near South First Street and East Platt Avenue. That’s where a gunman strolled up and casually asked “what’s up?” before firing at least 10 rounds from a handgun at the boy’s father, Rashad Halford Sr. The bullets felled the toddler and also hit Rashad Sr. and a friend, who both survived.

It’s the kind of case that makes for long hours and a lot of coffee in offices around the central San Joaquin Valley, like the one occupied by Lt. David Madrigal of the Fresno Police Department’s Street Violence Section. But as the year winds down, it’s just one of 39 homicides committed in Fresno in 2016 which he and his detectives are either trying to solve, hunting for involved fugitives or preparing cases for trial. Madrigal added that the department has tallied 23 of the cases solved as well as five holdovers from 2015.

There is also the case of Gurchan Singh Gill, 68, stabbed to death on New Year’s Day 2016 as he worked in a convenience store near Shields and West avenues. And there are the holdovers from the 40 murders in 2015, including the murder of K.C. Haggard, 66, a transgender woman fatally stabbed in July 25 at Blackstone and Cornell avenues and Fresno City College baseball player Deondre “Day Day” Howard, who was shot to death in late August outside the home of relatives near Valentine and Emerson avenues in northwest Fresno.

Madrigal and other homicide detectives say every murder is important and deserves to be solved. They consider themselves advocates for the slain who are there to tell their story and find them justice. They must walk a balancing act between families who want arrests yesterday and the district attorneys who demand that police produce a case that will stand up in court and lead to convictions.

Still, cases such as Baby Rashad’s jump out.

“I cannot remember the last time we had a child shot in our city like this,” a visibly distraught Police Chief Jerry Dyer said the day after the slaying. “The family is absolutely broken. We have a 20-month-old child who has been shot and killed in our city and it is difficult to make sense out of that.”

It is the norm for detectives to be reluctant to discuss cases before everything is in place, but Madrigal said police are moving forward on an arrest. He said his officers are “looking at some “unconventional” evidence in the complex case which is potentially “gang-motivated or related.”

“We’re knee-deep in that case,” he said. “It hits home with a lot of parents when a 20-month-old child is shot and killed.”

Hate crimes?

The murder of Gill appears equally senseless. Police continue to pore over a video of the slaying, which shows a light-skinned male between 16 and 18 dressed in a red hoodie, jeans and a black baseball camp lurking outside the Shields Express Market about 4 p.m. The killer approaches the counter and apparently seeks help from Gill with something he wants to buy. Suddenly, with Gill within arms reach, the suspect stabs him repeatedly and knocks him to the ground before trying to open a cash register. He then takes something from a shelf and walks out, leaving Gill to die.

Madrigal says the video shows the entire act. Police are also not ruling out the possibility of a hate crime.

Advocates for the transgender community have demanded that the death of K.C. Haggard also be investigated as a hate crime. The murder of Haggard, who was born Kenton Haggard, was also caught on video from a camera placed at a nearby store. It shows Haggard speaking with someone in a silver Saturn SUV moments before the occupant fatally stabs her.

Madrigal said police have identified the car and a person of interest in the killing and the department is “reaching out to other agencies” for help with the case before moving forward.

The murder of Day Day Howard, a popular baseball player at Edison High School before he joined the Fresno City College team, remains a puzzle for his friends and family. Police say neither he nor his brother, 16, who was shot but survived in the same incident on Aug. 27, 2105, had a criminal record. Cliff Rold, Day Day’s coach at Edison, said “he touched all corners of our community with his spirit and his character.

“It was in his heart to love and succeed.”

The case remains active, Madrigal said.