Hooked to a respirator and fighting for her life at the intensive care unit (ICU) of a Quezon City hospital, 7-year-old Stephanie Nicole Ella is a far cry from the lively “Gangnam”-dancing girl who welcomed the new year with her family.
Stephanie Nicole was sitting outside her Caloocan City home, watching the fireworks display with her brother, cousins and older family members, when a stray bullet hit her in the head just 15 minutes into the new year.
Mercedita Ella, the girl’s aunt, said the family had not even bought any firecrackers, confining its noisemaking to blowing on toy trumpets.
“We were all just watching and enjoying the fireworks. She just fell to the ground, blood coming from the top of her head,” Mercedita said.
“Why did it have to hit her and not one of us (adults)?” she said.
Four-year-old Ranjilo Nemer of Mandaluyong City left his house in Welfareville, Mandaluyong, at 9 p.m. on Monday to use the bathroom in a cousin’s house. He never made it home before midnight.
Shot 4 times
Before the old year was out, Ranjilo was dead from four gunshot wounds to his head and body.
“He was only supposed to go to the bathroom, but now he’s gone,” said Gemma Bañadera, Ranjilo’s mother.
Ryan Nemer, Ranjilo’s father, said he gave the boy permission to go out but warned him not to linger on the streets as it was dangerous.
A few minutes later, someone came running to their house, screaming that Ranjilo had been hit, he said.
Ryan said he didn’t think it was serious at first, thinking the boy had only been injured in a firecracker blast.
To his horror, doctors at Mandaluyong City Medical Center pronounced the boy dead a few minutes after being brought there.
A witness, Ramon Elbambuena, said that just before Ranjilo was hit, he saw a man walking on the street with a sumpak (homemade gun) in his hand.
“The man tapped his gun, I heard a boom, and then I saw the child rolling on the pavement,” Elbambuena said.
He said the gunman rushed toward the child, took him in his arms, then screamed “I didn’t mean it!” four times.
The man, whom authorities later identified as Emmanuel Janabon, then ran toward his house. He has not been seen again.
Chief Insp. Teddy Tomas of the Mandaluyong police said a manhunt operation has been launched against Janabon. He said homicide charges would be filed against Janabon on Wednesday, when government offices reopen after the long holiday.
While reports included Ranjilo among the victims of indiscriminate firing during the holiday revelry, Senior Supt. Armando Bolalin, Mandaluyong’s police chief, clarified that it was also possible that the child was a victim of a weapon that had been fired accidentally.
In deep coma
Stephanie Nicole remains in critical condition at East Avenue Medical Center (EAMC), with the bullet which had entered the top of her head still lodged behind her left eye.
EAMC emergency room head Dr. Emmanuel Bueno said surgery to remove the bullet was not the best option as Stephanie’s brain remains swollen.
The brain swelling has to subside first before surgeons can remove the bullet, he said.
“She (Stephanie Nicole) is in a deep coma and is hooked up to a respirator because she is having difficulty breathing on her own,” Bueno said.
The difficulties with breathing might be because the center of her brain or the brain stem has been affected by the bullet, he said.
Shooter remains free
The aunt recalled that Stephanie Nicole, a first-grade pupil at Tala Elementary School, was all excited about the new year and kept dancing “Gangnam Style” with the other children.
“Whoever you are who fired that gun, you know who you are. Take responsibility for what you did. Look at what you did to my niece. I am sure you have children of your own and you can imagine the pain we feel,” Mercedita said, addressing the still unidentified shooter who fired a gun to greet the new year.
“I hope your conscience bothers you. I do not know if you can still sleep after what you did. But come out and face what you have done to my daughter,” added Elaine, 29, the girl’s mother.
Useless staying indoors
“It is so painful. She is such a good child and a diligent student. Who would have thought something like this could happen to her?” Elaine said, adding that she believes God will save her daughter.
Bueno observed that most of the six victims of stray bullets, including Stephanie Nicole and a 2-year-old girl, who were treated at the EAMC were outside their houses when they were hit.
By far the most serious case was that of 7-year-old Stephanie Nicole’s, he said.
But Bueno would not advise parents to keep their children indoors during the New Year’s Eve celebrations.
“I would not give that advice. I would rather say I hope nobody fires a gun [to welcome the new year] so this does not happen anymore,” he said.
“It does not matter to a bullet if someone is inside or outside his home. Even someone sleeping inside his house could be hit by a stray bullet,” Bueno said.