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No leads in child’s killing at Charlotte birthday party

dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

The shooting started when the piñata broke. A purple piñata with a princess theme, the big moment for a 2-year-old girl’s birthday party.

Candy had just rained down on the small front yard of the house at the dead end of Fieldvale Drive in the Springfield subdivision off Nation’s Ford Road, and children were scrambling for treats when several men suddenly opened fire Saturday night.

When the shooting stopped, three people were injured and 7-year-old Kevin Antonio Calderon Rodas was dead.

A few hours later, just after midnight, another shooting broke out around the corner from Fieldvale, on Echodale Drive. In that shooting, two people were sitting on the porch of a house when shots were fired. Laquanta Franchez Young, 30, was killed, and a man who lived in the house was injured.

The shootings in Springfield were two of several violent incidents over the Labor Day weekend. Twelve people were shot at six locations and five have died. So far in Mecklenburg County, there have been 43 homicides in 2015, more than for all of the year before.

In Springfield, police investigators are still trying to determine if the two shootings, about five blocks apart, were connected.

“That’s one of the things we’re working hard to determine, to figure what’s connected and what’s not,” said CMPD Deputy Chief Jeff Estes. There were few witnesses, and police are hoping for tips.

On Monday morning at the house on Fieldvale Drive, the tattered remains of the purple piñata were still hanging from the upper branches of the tree. Next to the tree, a makeshift tarp was taped over the broken rear window of a car pocked with bullet holes.

A half-dozen cars and trucks were pulled up while family members packed, getting ready to leave. No one wants to stay there anymore.

A request for help with Kevin’s funeral on the website gofundme.com had raised $1,940 of the $3,000 cost by early Tuesday.

Kevin Rodas’ cousin, Cristian Rodas, 11, lived in the house with his parents. He said his cousin Kevin lived on Albemarle Road with his mother. The Rodases are a large extended family, mostly from Honduras. On Saturday, 15 to 20 people had gathered for the birthday party.

On Monday, translating for his uncle Jose Gomez Rodas, Cristian was struggling to make sense of it.

“We don’t know why they shot Kevin,” he said. “Did he do something?”

Cristian said he was in the front yard Saturday, enjoying the party for the little girl, who is another cousin. The princess piñata was for her.

“She was happy when they were ripping it,” he said. “Then her birthday got all wrong.”

He said he saw four men on the street, watching. Police believe they came from the woods next to the house. When the piñata broke, they suddenly opened fire.

“I tried to save Kevin, but I couldn’t,” Cristian said Monday. “I tried to grab him, but they were shooting at me. My mother was in the house, yelling for me to get inside. People tried to save him, but it was too late.”

At the door of the house on Monday, Cristian’s 3-year-old cousin, Jonathan, came to the door, smiling shyly.

“He doesn’t get what happened,” Cristian said. “He got scared when they started shooting. He thought they were fireworks. He thought it was a game with a gun.”

Kathleen Purvis: 704-358-5236, @kathleenpurvis

Police ask public for help

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department is seeking information in the killing of 7-year-old Kevin Antonio Calderon Rodas. Call 704-432-TIPS (704-432-8477) and talk directly with a homicide unit detective.

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