Exactly five years ago today Karen Domaloan got the call.
She was lying propped up in her bed watching late night television waiting for her son Michael to come home.
She understood that was ridiculous to wait up for a twenty-one year old, but she couldn’t help it. She did her best not to over-mother Michael now that he had moved home after the big fight with his girlfriend, Monique, a few weeks before.
Karen pretty much figured the split was temporary, that the two young people would likely end up together. But that was the thing, they were young. The pair seemed very attached to each other, but they were also hot-headed and sometimes neither had the sense to back down when backing down was needed.
This argument was bigger than usual and, when the anger cleared, it was agreed that Monique would keep the apartment while Michael would pack his things and move into his childhood bedroom.
Karen adored having her son at home. She doted on her two girls, of course, Mandy and Nicole, his sisters. But she was uniquely close to Michael, the baby. A big, beautiful kid who was a natural athlete, looks-wise Michael took after his Hawaiian father, Melvin, who had been killer-handsome as a younger man. But while Melvin tended toward a Zen-ish sort of yep/nope taciturnity, emotionally, Michael was his mother’s child, expressive and awash with feelings.
He could also be tough.. Karen didn’t like to think about it, but she knew he’d been in fights, and that he was probably good at fighting. A few years back, when he was 15 or so he’d gotten in with the wrong crowd, there’d been a juvenile arrest and she’d had to put her foot down. Eventually maturity seemed to kick in. Now Michael was working construction, which suited him, and he was really busting his butt to move up the food chain on the building crew. Plus he was finally going back to school. First Pierce College in Canoga Park, and then, she and Melvin hoped, on to a four-year. Michael wasn’t academic like his sister Mandy, but he was a smart kid, and he said he wanted to have the degree, so Karen thought he might stick it out.
Through it all, even the rebellious times, she and Michael remained close.
When the phone rang at nearly 1 a.m. Karen assumed it was Michael calling to say he was on his way home, that she shouldn’t worry. She grabbed the cordless at her bedside.
“You need to come to Northridge Hospital now…”
Karen was momentarily disoriented. It was not Michael’s voice, but Johnny, her son’s close friend and one of the guys she knew he was with that night. At least she thought it was Johnny. His voice sounded odd, not at all normal.
“What?” she said.
“You need to come to Northridge. Just come. You need to come.”
Karen was alone in the house in Chatsworth. Melvin, a Vietnam Vet who still occasionally suffered bouts of PTSD and went off the wagon, was at Veterans hospital for treatment. She pulled on clothes and scrambled for keys to the grey Chevy Tahoe. And then she headed for the Northridge Hospital Medical Center located at the corner on Roscoe and Reseda. Michael was hurt, she thought. He must be hurt bad or he would have called her not, Johnny. Michael was the Alpha of his group. Always had been, even as a kid. His sisters, while older than her son, now regarded him as the big brother, all three of them agreeing on the switch in position.
Karen also thought about how she’d asked him not to go out that night because she’d had an uncomfortable feeling. But Michael had been Michael.
“Don’t worry, mom,” he’d said. “I can take care of myself. I won’t be late.” And see? She’d been right. Now, look, he was hurt.
At the hospital, she parked and walked quickly into the ER entrance. Unsure exactly what she was to do, she gave her name to woman at the registration window.
“I’m Karen Domaloan.”
The woman said to wait a minute. Karen waited. Then a man in a lab coat, obviously a doctor came out and asked her to follow him into one of the examination rooms.
It was then that Karen knew before the doctor told her.
“I want to see my son,” she said, the hysteria rising like groundwater. “Let me see my son,” she said.
And there he was, she told me earlier this week, when I asked her to again describe what she remembered from that night. “He was just lying on the table.” Karen wondered absently why the hospital hadn’t fixed him up better, closed the wounds a little more.
After that, Karen’s memory is vague. She remembers losing it—screaming and crying uncontrollably, then lying over Michael’s body and telling everyone, friends, even her brothers, to go away, not to touch him, until eventually it was she who had to be pulled away.
Karen didn’t hear the circumstances of her son’s death until later when Johnny and his dad came over to the house to tell her, Johnny barely able to talk. Even then she couldn’t quite take it in. There’d been a fight at a club, a place called Bub Blurs, on Lindley Avenue and Nordhoff. It was a no-alcohol hookah club right across from Cal State Northridge where people came to smoke flavored tobacco and listen to music. There’d been a fight at the club earlier with Michael and Felix involved, then everyone left and came back. As Johnny described it, Michael and his friend Felix Quiroz, 23, had gotten in a second fist fight with some guys, and one from the other group had pulled a gun and started blasting at the combatants in front of a bunch of witnesses. Felix died at the scene, while Michael had been alive and talking when they drove him to the hospital. “So everybody thought he’d make it,” Johnny said.
According to the Devonshire Division police report, Michael Domaloan died at 12:33 a.m. on September 18, 2003.
He was shot three times. The last shot, the killing shot, entered through the rear of his left shoulder and travelled south. It passed through his left lung then continued to travel in a downward path into his abdominal cavity where it pierced his stomach, pancreas and liver. An examining physician, Dr. Carrillo, estimated that the last shot was fired at close range, likely from six inches away.
A third boy, Chris Landeros, was shot too, yet his wounds were not serious.
Karen didn’t learn these forensic details until much, much later. Her brother, Chris Greenwood, was the one who mostly dealt with the police and other officials since she was in no shape to do it.
“The two detectives who came over a couple of times gave me the impression that, once they caught the guy, it was pretty much a slam dunk,” said Greenwood. The cops, while professional, tried to reassure him, he said, that as bad as the loss was, at least justice would be done. This was a case that would be prosecuted as first degree murder.
On September 19, a story about the shooting ran in the Los Angeles Times. It read in part:
Detective Orlando Martinez, one of the investigators on the case, said neither Domaloan nor Quiroz had any history of trouble, and the club was not a location with a reputation for trouble.
“I’m kind of stunned about it,” said Los Angeles Police Department Capt. Joe Curreri, head of the Devonshire Division. “It’s a sad commentary about how prolific guns are and how quickly people tend to use them.”
Witnesses told police a fight had broken out in the club’s parking lot about 11 p.m. The participants left, but then returned about a half-hour later and starting fighting again.
Authorities said a man described only as an 18- to 20-year-old Latino fired a gun into the crowd, striking the three victims.
“This city’s nuts,” said LAPD Deputy Chief Ronald Bergmann, Valley Bureau commander.
A month and a half later, on November 4, 2003, Alejandro Murillo, also in his early 20’s, was arrested for the murders of Michael Domaloan and Felix Quiroz.
After Murillo’s arrest, said the Domaloans, everything seemed to change.
TO BE CONTINUED….