MANILA, Philippines–Under extreme pressure to put behind bars those responsible for the death of a 7-year-old girl due to celebratory gunfire on New Year’s eve in Caloocan City, the police have again narrowed down the number of their potential suspects who are registered gun owners from 45 to 32, a police official said.
Superintendent Jackie Candelario, the local police’s spokesperson, told the Inquirer that the lower number represented the owners of .45 cal. pistols within a 50-meter radius from where Stephanie Nicole Ella was found.
Ella was watching a fireworks display outside her house on San Lorenzo St., Barangay 185, Malaria District, when she suddenly collapsed to the floor, apparently felled by a .45 cal. bullet that lodged in her head.
She died in East Avenue Medical Center in Quezon City Wednesday afternoon.
According to Candelario, police came out with the information that the bullet that hit the child had traveled a distance of some 50 meters, based on a reconstruction of the crime on Thursday night.
Candelario said the number also includes former Presidential Security Group intelligence officer Juan Agus, who admitted to firing his .45 cal. pistol that night, but who was later initially cleared by a ballistics examination.
Candelario said, however, that Agus and his drinking buddies–Arcadio Gulmatico, Eddie Magtubo and Feliciano Cercano—were not yet off the hook as a preliminary investigation had been set by the City Prosecutor’s Office on Jan. 11 to determine whether the charges of alarm and scandal filed against them could be upgraded to reckless imprudence resulting in homicide.
Chief Insp. Ronald Perilla, head of the local police’s North Extension Office, told the INQUIRER over the phone that he received a phone call from a representative of the City Prosecutor’s Office late Friday afternoon.
The person on the other line, he said, told him to file the charges against the four.
He said, however, that so far, his investigators did not find any evidence that could link the four men to Ella’s death.
“So what charges of reckless imprudence will we file against them?” he asked.
He added, however, that it was still up to the prosecutor’s office if the charges against the four would be upgraded.
Candelario said that of the thirty-two .45 cal. pistols, only Agus’ firearm was in the possession of authorities.
Another 9 mm pistol registered to Agus was turned over by his wife Carmen to police on Friday, but the .22 cal. gun he owned, based on Philippine National Police records, has yet to be turned over, Candelario said.
According to the police official, letters requesting that the rest of the individuals subject their firearms to a ballistics examination had already been sent to them.
At the same time, he said 11 slugs turned over by concerned citizens from Barangay 185 and nearby barangays as a result of Oplan Galugad, he said, will be subjected to a ballistics examination.
Oplan Galugad saw policemen conducting house-to house visitations on Jan. 2 for any information leading to individuals who fired guns during the holiday revelry, Candelario said.
While police are initially looking into the 32 registered .45 cal. gun owners, Calendario admitted that it was also possible that the person responsible for Ella’s death used a firearm that had not been registered with authorities.
Candelario, who is also the city’s assistant chief of police, refused to give an estimate as to the number of individuals who had “loose firearms” in the Malaria area.
“It’s difficult to give a figure. If you ask someone if he has a loose firearm, of course he won’t say that he does …, ” Candelario explained.
Asked if this would pose any difficulty in pinning down Ella’s killer, he said: “This is where the information provided by our concerned citizens comes in.”
As of press time, a total of P400,000 in reward money is being dangled to anyone who can help the police arrest the person responsible for Ella’s death.
Perilla said that P200,000 came from the Caloocan City government, and another P200,000 from the Valenzuela City government.
According to Perilla, the reward money could help witnesses come forward for a prompt resolution of the case.
In a related development, Candelario said he welcomed the National Bureau of Investigation’s conduct of a parallel investigation into Ella’s death.
Representatives from the NBI visited Ella’s barangay on Friday night and conducted an ocular inspection of the scene.
“That’s good because we can (help each other). That’s not a problem with us,” he said.