Juan “Macho” Rodriguez turned 12 years old Friday.
He should have been opening gifts and eating birthday cake. Instead, the boy lay unconscious in the intensive care unit at Erie County Medical Center, hooked up to life-support equipment, after barely surviving a gunshot wound to the forehead Wednesday.
Despite his condition, his family was determined to have the birthday celebration they had planned for him.
Before the shooting, Juan’s family had discussed doing something special for his 12th birthday.
“We were thinking about going somewhere,” said Michael Clark, the boyfriend of Juan’s mother, Sonia Pagan. “We were going to surprise him with, like, maybe a trip to Darien Lake, or something like that.”
Instead, in the ICU waiting room, they had cake, cupcakes and juice. A mountain of mylar birthday balloons, including two big ones shaped like the numerals 1 and 2, filled a corner.
They held hands, forming a praying circle, and sang “Happy Birthday.”
“If he woke up and we told him we skipped his birthday, he wouldn’t be happy at all,” Clark said. “We’re all going to go up to the hospital and we’re going to have everything like it’s a regular birthday party. ... You know, we’re not going to treat him any different on this day, just go along with things like he would want. He would still want his birthday party.”
Clark said he and Juan were inside his home on Humason Avenue on the city’s far East Side on Wednesday evening when they heard the sound of gunfire outside. The shots sounded like they were being fired only feet from where Clark’s 5-year-old son and Juan’s younger siblings were playing.
Juan tried to shepherd them all inside to safety, Clark said, away from the gunfight taking place in the street.
As soon as Juan stepped outside his front door, he was struck in the crossfire and seriously wounded, Clark said.
Also shot was Detavion Magee, who, police said, may have been the intended target of the shooting. He remained in critical condition Friday.
Witnesses described a scene in which two groups of people were shooting at each other. Members of one group were firing shots from a car, while the adult man who was shot, now identified as Magee, was with at least one other individual, traveling on foot before they, too, fled in a car.
Mayoral spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge on Friday said detectives were continuing to make progress in solving the case, but no arrests have been made so far.
“We’re still asking the public, if they have any information, to come forward, to call or text the Confidential Tip Call line at 716-847-2255,” DeGeorge said.
Juan was on the mind of Mayor Byron W. Brown on Friday when he made an appearance at the Kensington Pool for the season opening of the city’s pools.
“Today was a day intended to be one of celebration for our city’s children, who worked hard all year and are ready for the pool season to begin,” he said. “Sadly, where we stand today, in the shadow of ECMC, 11-year-old Juan Rodriguez continues to fight for his life.
“Our thoughts are with him and his family during this difficult time. I want them to know that our community is here for them. We’re standing together and doing everything we can to stop these types of senseless tragedies.”
Meanwhile, Juan’s family kept vigil at ECMC.
“He’s not fully conscious, but it seems like he does react to certain things,” Clark said. “From what we’ve seen, he is making slight progress, though.”
Juan’s family has set up a GoFundMe to assist with his medical and other expenses.
“His mom is definitely going to need help with different things, the medical bills and things connected with taking care of him,” Clark said. “One of the things she wants to do, honestly, is she does want to move. I mean, she’s kind of been wanting to move from this street for a while.”
Only a block long, Humason is nestled between Heminway and Genesee streets near the Cheektowaga border.
While neighbors on the street acknowledged occasional incidents of crime, they described Wednesday’s shooting as unusual.
“On our end of the street, it’s pretty quiet because there’s just kids here, you know,” Clark said.