The little boy critically injured by stray gunfire Friday night was "improving" and spoke to his parents briefly following surgery, relatives said Saturday evening while police investigators questioned two men regarding the west Modesto drive-by shooting.
Modesto police Sgt. Craig Gundlach stressed the two had not been identified as suspects.
Josue Becerra, who relatives say is 22 months old and not 18 months as first reported, was heavily sedated Saturday. The bullet that struck him damaged his kidney and liver, said Oscar Becerra, an uncle.
His parents, Jorge and Sandra Becerra, who were with their son at a Bay Area hospital, could not be reached for comment. Hospital officials declined to update the boy's condition Saturday.
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Gundlach said Modesto police detectives, along with the department's Street Crimes Unit, have been working long hours and following every lead since the shooting.
He said the sight of a defenseless child injured in a gangland shooting affects each officer differently, but investigators are driven to find those responsible.
"It's frustrating; it's angering," Gundlach said. "You begin to get very angry at the senseless and cowardly act."
Josue was hit by gunfire as he played in front of his west Modesto home, his family watching a few feet away, police said.
The shooting occurred about 7:30 p.m. in front of the home in the 200 block of H Street, between Second and Third streets. The family had lived there for three years after coming from Jalisco, Mexico, said 28-year-old Oscar Becerra.
He said the family came to the country to find work. Jorge Becerra is a farmworker and his wife works for a cleaning service.
"They injured an innocent child, that's the worst thing," he said. "Everyone should know they attacked innocent, hardworking people."
Police said a man in his 20s, wearing a red sweater and with a ponytail past his waist, was seen on the sidewalk in front of the home. At the same time, a dark compact car with a sunroof, possibly a Honda, made a left turn from Second Street onto one-way H Street, heading the wrong way.
As the car passed, the passenger came out through the sunroof and fired a gun in the direction of the house, Gundlach said.
Another of Josue's uncles, 26-year-old Krisne Becerra, was sitting on the porch when the stray bullet struck the toddler.
"He didn't fall down, he was just hunched over and you could see the wound in his stomach," he said.
Josue's uncles said they feared their nephew would not survive.
"His skin was pale, because he was losing blood," said Oscar Becerra. "His lips had turned purple. We're so glad he's doing better now."
Witnesses told police there were two males in the car but couldn't offer a more detailed description. Gundlach said the car last was seen heading east, the wrong way, toward Highway 99, and the man with the red sweater was gone when police arrived.
Investigators were not sure if the shooter was aiming at the man wearing the red sweater or anyone else. They don't believe the house or its occupants were the targets.
"The indicators are there," said Sgt. Scott Heller, who oversees the Modesto police Crimes Against Persons Unit. "We haven't confirmed this is a gang shooting, but it definitely appears to be."
Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden said the officers and detectives investigating the toddler's attack will look into every lead, but the problem is deeper than this one case.
"This is a despicable and cowardly act," Wasden said. "Gangs have been working to get a foothold in our city and it will take all of us, working together, to dislodge them. Our future depends on it."
Modesto police ask anyone with information about this shooting or the unidentified man in the red sweater to call CrimeStoppers at 521-4636. Callers to Crime Stoppers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward.