EVERETT, Wash. — David Sandoval worried about getting his shoes dirty while he hiked with his dad on a dusty trail east of Monroe.

The fall hike was a spontaneous outing for father and son, a few hours to get out of the city and catch up.

David had a good time on the trail, persuading his dad to carry his heavy backpack. “You can do it, Grandpa. You can do it,” the 14-year-old teased. He let his dad know that if his shoes got dirty, the teen expected his Poppa to clean them.

David collected shoes, the way some kids accumulate baseball cards or video games. Sneakers stacked up in his room. He’d find a pair online, excited to show his dad the cool new kicks but not so eager to reveal the price. He had big ideas, though. His dad, he figured, could start his own business and hire David. Then he’d have money to buy his own shoes. Meanwhile, he sheepishly asked his dad for another pair.

“We spent so much money on shoes,” Marcos Sandoval said, smiling at the memory. “He had this thing for them. He always used to carry a toothbrush with soap for cleaning his shoes, like a scientist.”

The Everett father recently talked to his daughter, David’s sister, about starting a nonprofit to raise money to buy shoes for kids in need. It seems like a fitting tribute to his son, a boy with a generous heart.

Marcos Sandoval is searching to make sense of what happened to David. It’s often what dads do when they lose a child, look for something to fix or make better. Their grief grows purpose.

David was shot to death Oct. 4 outside a south Everett apartment. A 13-year-old boy, who’d been living on the streets, is suspected of pulling the trigger. Police were told the teen took the handgun off a 12-year-old boy. It’s unclear where the 12-year-old acquired the firearm.

After the shooting, the 13-year-old led police to the Taurus 9mm semiautomatic. It was wrapped in a blue bandana. Police have called the shooting gang-related. Young witnesses told detectives the boy confronted David, a freshman at Mariner High School, about the color of his tennis shoes. David and his friends were at Explorer Middle School, watching a football game. The 13-year-old wanted to know if David was claiming affiliation with a certain gang.

The boys nearly came to blows but the 13-year-old allegedly pulled a gun, pointed it at David and threatened to shoot. Other kids intervened and the 13-year-old walked away. Police later learned that he pointed the gun at several others that day. No one spoke up. After the schoolyard confrontation, David left to meet with friends at a nearby apartment building. He crossed paths with the 13-year-old again. A single round hit David in the stomach.

The shooting is one of dozens in Everett involving young people since late last year. Kids as young as 13 have been hit by gunfire. Police have attributed many shootings to gangs, including four sets that have been warring in Snohomish County for more than two years. The victims and witnesses often refuse to cooperate, and police have closed numerous investigations without arrests.

The 13-year-old arrested for David’s death remains at Denney Juvenile Justice Center, charged with second-degree murder.

Marcos Sandoval believes his son was killed over the color of his shoes. David was not in a gang at the time of his death, he said. His son often talked to him about the pressure to be in a gang or the unfairness of people assuming he was because of who his friends were or what color clothes he wore. He didn’t want to be involved in gangs but he also didn’t want to give up his friends. He promised his dad he’d stay out of trouble.

Marcos Sandoval encouraged his boy to set a good example for other teens who were going through rough times.

“Be the one to help them to be better people,” he said.

He also had realized that his son was in danger.

“Time,” he said, “was our worst enemy.”

He and his family planned to move out of the area and were waiting for their lease to expire in a few months.

The Everett dad can’t escape the what-ifs. What if they hadn’t chosen to settle in Everett? What if they’d picked a different city?

Sandoval doesn’t stray too far from guilt, either.

He said when he found out who his son had befriended, his first reaction was to get mad and impose strict rules. That pushed his son away. “Just four or five months ago, I’m thinking I need to do something different. It’s obviously not working. I’m trying to change David, but first I need to change me because I don’t know how to handle this situation.”

David talked and his dad listened.

“That’s when I knew the problem was more serious and he was in danger, not because he was a criminal doing bad stuff, but because he was hanging out with the wrong people,” Sandoval said. “I should have listened to him more. I messed up.”

Kids are in a tough place, said Jorge Galindo, who has volunteered with young people on Casino Road for more than a decade. They are feeling pressured into gangs. If they aren’t associated with one gang, another thinks they want to be a part of that set. If they wear the wrong colors, they get sent home from school. Adults assume they are in gangs because of who their friends are or how they dress. They don’t feel like they can talk to anyone because they don’t want to be labeled a snitch.

“Our kids are really confused right now. They don’t know what to do,” Galindo said. “We need to find more time for them.”

Galindo had mentored David since January, meeting him when the teen attended Explorer. He encouraged David to help with an elementary school soccer program. David volunteered once a week with the kids. Galindo tried to persuade David to take up soccer. He was fast and with practice he could have been a great player, Galindo said. David broke it to his mentor that soccer wasn’t his sport. He ended up playing football for the middle school.

David was smart and funny, Galindo said. He was a flirt, who tugged on girls’ ponytails. He was the kind of kid who would give up his lunch if someone didn’t have one and shrug it off as no big deal. He talked politics and didn’t understand why people were judged by the color of their skin. He could sense when his dad had a bad day at work and would pull him in for a hug.

If he was excited about something, there was no hiding it. He’d stretch out his arms, pause, begin with, “OK. OK,” and then launch into his story.

David and his dad went on their hike about three weeks before the boy was killed. They joked and teased each other, but David told his dad he wanted to make his parents proud. He also promised he’d take care of his little brother.

At the end of the hike, David matter-of-factly told his dad he needed the car. He had another big idea: driving. Marcos Sandoval reminded his son that he didn’t have a permit. David promised to be careful.

Sandoval handed his son the keys. David was over the moon. He drove from the trail to Monroe. He was cautious and careful. That afternoon sitting beside his son in the family’s old Honda, Sandoval got a glimpse of the man David was becoming. He was proud.

Sandoval is grateful for the nearly 15 years he had with his boy. It wasn’t enough, and there are days when the pain chokes him. His other children keep him going when it’s hard to see a way forward.

He worries about his daughter, 18, who doesn’t talk much about her brother’s death. Sandoval doesn’t know what to say to her when she spends hours in David’s room, lying on his bed.

And he fears for his youngest son.

“I know he is scared, too. He told me the other day, ‘What am I supposed to wear now because I got blue shoes and if they see me am I going to get shot, too, just like David?'”

The boy is 11.

“I cannot tell my little guy that he’s going to be all right, that he’s going to be safe when David is gone. I just can’t. I don’t know what to do but I know in my heart there’s gotta be something that needs to be done so we can take guns away from kids because they’re not thinking right,” Sandoval said.

Young people aren’t settling their differences with fists. Instead, they’re arming themselves, Galindo said. There is some speculation that the 13-year-old who was living on the street sought a gun for protection. He also allegedly told one person he wanted to be known as “Lil Shooter.”

In all his sadness, Sandoval hurts for that boy, too.

“In some ways I feel sorry for this guy. He was just a little kid with no home, nowhere to go to,” he said.

It’s hard to see a solution, Sandoval said. He needs to try to make it better. He wants David to be proud of him. Right now, he thinks that means talking to other parents, sharing his story and the lessons he never wanted to learn.

“I feel like because of David I need to save those kids and for me one way of preventing those kids from dying, I need to talk to the parents,” he said. “This is a serious problem that is killing our kids. I think it’s a monster and we do not realize that. We are very comfortable watching TV in our living rooms but we don’t know what (the kids) are going through.

“I need to do something. I gotta find a way to talk to the parents and hopefully one day, one day our kids can walk free in our streets wearing whatever color they want and not being afraid that they’re going to be shot and killed.”


Information from: The Daily Herald, http://www.heraldnet.com

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DIANA HEFLEY
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