A former soldier who is now a barangay (village) official in Caloocan City was almost tagged Thursday a suspect in the killing of 7-year-old Stephanie Nicole Ella in celebratory gunfire on New Year’s Eve.
But ballistic tests on the 1911 pistol of Juan Agos, a former soldier, showed that the .45 cal. bullet that killed Nicole was not fired from that gun.
Caloocan City Mayor Enrico Echiverri said Agos voluntarily surrendered and admitted to firing a .45 cal. pistol on New Year’s Eve.
But the chief of the Philippine National Police, Director General Alan Purisima, said police found Agos in a house-to-house “visitation” with gun owners in Malaria, Caloocan City.
Echiverri said Agos is now a barangay justice in Barangay 185 in Malaria, where Nicole and her family lived.
Agos, reportedly a former intelligence officer in the Presidential Security Group and now Barangay 185 justice, admitted to police investigators that he and four companions took turns firing his 1911 pistol during celebrations on New Year’s Eve.
But Caloocan police said last night that ballistic tests showed Agos’ 1911 pistol was not the gun from which the bullet that killed Nicole was fired.
Superintendent Jackie Candelario, Caloocan police spokesperson, said the ballistic signature from Agos’ gun did not match the ballistic signature on the bullet that killed Nicole.
Candelario said Agos’ pistol was registered, making the ballistic test quick for the investigators.
Candelario said that charges of illegal firearms discharge were being readied against Agos and his companions.
But Caloocan police said they were confident that they could identify the owner of the gun.
Candelario said investigators were filtering information from residents of Barangays 180, 185 and 186 to catalog registered firearms owned by people who lived in those areas.
Candelario said residents turned over six slugs, apparently .45 ACP bullets, they found in those places.
The death of 7-year-old Nicole from celebratory gunfire on New Year’s Eve sparked calls yesterday for stricter gun control, with Malacañang pressing the police to find the man who fired the bullet that killed the little girl.
An outpouring of sympathy followed Nicole’s death on Wednesday, with the office of President Aquino, himself a keen sports shooter, issuing a statement condemning her “senseless death.”
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda told reporters Thursday that the Philippine National Police had been ordered to identify and locate the man who fired that shot and caused the death of Nicole.
Lacierda said investigators had recovered empty bullet cases in the Caloocan City area where Nicole’s family lived.
“We’re in the process of identifying who owned the gun that killed Stephanie Nicole,” Lacierda said.
50 meters away
Nicole was watching fireworks with her family outside their house on New Year’s Eve when a bullet, apparently fired from celebratory gunfire, struck her in the head.
She died at East Avenue Medical Center in Quezon City on Wednesday afternoon after fighting for her life for two days.
Police said Thursday the bullet that killed Nicole was fired from a gun just 50 meters from where she stood.
Chief Insp. Joseph Palmero, chief of the PNP Crime Laboratory’s medicolegal division, said Nicole’s wound indicated that the gun was fired in the air, possibly at an angle of 90 degrees.
“But we have to coordinate with the police investigators to determine the position of the victim’s body when she fell unconscious,” Palmero said.
“We need to check where she was facing to determine where the bullet could have come from,” he said.
Palmero said the bullet hit Nicole on the top of her head, slicing through the left side of her brain and coming to rest just beneath the skin of her left cheek.
It was a thorough hit that Palmero described as “very fatal.”
“This tragedy is a sobering reminder of how a reprehensible act from a thoughtless individual can rob our people, particularly our children, of their futures,” Lacierda said.
“For such a promising life to be lost in such a senseless way puts the burden on all of us to make certain that this tragedy is not repeated,” he added.
Lacierda said the government would launch a fresh campaign against loose firearms.
Nicole was the second young victim to die from gunfire on New Year’s Eve.
In Mandaluyong City, 4-year-old Ranjilo Nemer died from a spray of buckshots fired from a homemade shotgun.
The shotgun wielder, Emmanuel Janabon, did not try to escape. He surrendered when police arrived to arrest him.
Janabon said he had been drinking and was out to avenge himself on someone who had beaten him up. He said he accidentally tamped the shotgun, firing the shell.
Four buckshots struck the boy in the head and body. He died within minutes of arrival at Mandaluyong City Medical Center.
Police said they would bring criminal charges against Janabon.
Tighter gun control
Vice President Jejomar Binay called for tighter gun control while Sen. Manuel “Lito” Lapid urged the revival of a year-old proposal that would penalize people who indiscriminately fire guns.
Binay issued a statement decrying the lack of enforcement of the country’s gun laws.
“We have enough laws to penalize but the problem has always been in the enforcement of the laws, especially those on loose firearms,” Binay said. “That is the challenge of the [Philippine National Police] and other law enforcement agencies.”
Binay said Nicole’s death should not be allowed to become just another statistic.
“The law must be enforced to the letter,” he said.
According to Lapid, a former action movie hero, current gun laws do not penalize shooting a firearm without a human target.
The Revised Penal Code, he said, prescribes a minimum penalty of six months in prison for illegal firearms discharge.
Celebratory gunfire is a form of illegal firearms discharge but is not described in the Revised Penal Code.
Lapid said his proposal, filed on Jan. 31 last year, would amend the Revised Penal Code to penalize discharging firearms without lawful authority, which would include celebratory gunfire.
The penalty would be six years’ imprisonment. If the shooter is a law enforcer, the penalty is 12 years to 20 years in prison. If somebody is hit and dies, the penalty would be life imprisonment.
“If my proposal is enacted, gun owners would think hard before discharging their firearms in the air because they would face a long time in prison,” Lapid said.
Irresponsible gun owners take advantage of the noise of fireworks on New Year’s Eve to discharge their firearms.
New firecracker law
But the death of Nicole could lead to legislation that would curb, if not completely prohibit, the use of firecrackers on New Year’s Eve.
Sen. Gregorio Honasan, chairman of the public order committee, said Thursday that he would call a public hearing that would look into legislation and local ordinances involving firecracker use and regulation.
Firecracker injuries during the Christmas and New Year holidays had reached 789 as of Thursday, according to the Department of Health.
PNP Director General Alan Purisima condoled with Nicole’s family yesterday and promised to personally monitor developments in the search for the man who fired the bullet that killed the girl.
Purisima also asked the public to help the police identify the people behind the celebratory gunfire that injured other people and killed Nicole.
“Let us now turn Nicole’s death to encourage the public to join us in the pursuit of the perpetrators… and ensure safe and peaceful celebrations in the future. This will be our collective tribute to her,” Purisima said.
He said people who want to provide information may text the PNP hotline 117 and 0917-8475757.
Two cops, one soldier
Purisima said two policemen and a soldier were among the 18 people who were arrested for discharging firearms on Dec. 16.
“These two policemen may be dismissed from the service as they now face the precharge evaluation. We are now finishing the summary hearing and we will come up with the decision soon,” he said. With reports from Cathy Yamsuan, TJ Burgonio, Tarra Quismundo and AFP