The young couple had spent the evening at the hospital, where Ramona's sister had given birth that day. They had left their 2-year-old daughter, Yelena, at her grandparents' house — a tidy yellow-and-green home on North 17th Street in Kansas City, Kansas. Yelena was an affectionate child who earned the nickname "La Choky" because of her tendency to hug her dad, Fernando, tightly around his neck. She met her parents at the door when they got back a little after 9:30 p.m.
Ramona, a soft-spoken 23-year-old with a porcelain face and blond-streaked hair, sat on the couch in the living room. She watched Yelena as she played on the floor in front of the entertainment center, munching on a tortilla. The protective mother asked the toddler to stop playing with a glass statue in the shape of praying hands that her grandma kept on the shelf.
Then came the noise. The frightened family heard a series of loud blasts coming from the entryway. They didn't know it was a hail of bullets from a gunman standing at their front gate.
Ramona started screaming. Fernando ran from the kitchen. Yelena crumpled to the ground.
Carlos Moreno, Ramona's brother, had been watching TV in his bedroom. The 21-year-old recognized the sound of shotgun fire. He darted out of his room. He saw his niece holding her head in the entryway. He crawled to retrieve her. Keeping low, he pulled Yelena to a back room, leaving a trail of blood smeared on the hardwood floor.
Fernando grabbed his daughter from Carlos. He didn't realize she was hurt until his right arm started to feel hot and wet. Under her long black hair, Yelena had been struck just below her left ear. The wound bled onto her father's shoulder. She was still breathing and her eyes were open, but she didn't respond when her parents spoke to her.
Ramona called 911, but she was terrified that the paramedics wouldn't come in time. She wanted to drive to the hospital herself. "But — I don't know why — I couldn't touch Yelena," she says. "I was afraid she would die in my arms."
They waited in a bedroom in the back of the house, listening for the sound of sirens. Ramona couldn't understand why her brother, Carlos, wouldn't give her a hug.
"I'm sorry," Carlos said. "It's my fault. It's my fault."
When the ambulance arrived, Fernando rushed outside with Yelena in his arms. The front porch was sprinkled with shattered glass. As he passed through the chain-link fence at the end of the yard, he didn't notice the five red-tipped shotgun shells partly hidden in the foliage near the sidewalk. Ramona jumped in the back of the ambulance and asked Yelena to stay with her.
Once the ambulance took off toward Children's Mercy Hospital, Fernando cornered his brother-in-law. He knew his in-laws didn't have problems with anybody. He knew his family had no reason to be targeted.
"Who did this, man?" Fernando asked.
"The FLs," Carlos said.
The FLs were members of a gang called Familia Loca. Carlos was part of rival gang Florencia 13. For nearly a decade, Kansas City, Kansas, police have been monitoring street robberies and drive-by shootings connected to Hispanic gangs. But in 2007, the violence between F13 and Familia Loca escalated. Their battles weren't confined to the streets but aimed at each other's homes.
And last April, an innocent 2-year-old got caught in the crossfire.