Katty Gomez was preparing for her 15th birthday party at her Baton Rouge apartment Saturday afternoon when three sheriff’s deputies from Los Angeles strolled up to the front door.
Katty grew up in Los Angeles, and the three deputies she has come to regard as her guardian angels were in Louisiana to surprise her on her quinceañera, some eight years after the fatal shooting of Katty’s mother brought them together.
They have remained in touch ever since that shooting.
As Katty stepped outside the apartment in a formal teal gown and saw the deputies approaching, she teared up and put a hand to her mouth. After they hugged, they presented Katty with an array of gifts: an iPhone, laptop, Tiffany & Co. necklace and a $1,000 gift from the City Council in Carson, where the 2006 shooting took place.
“I’m just really happy,” Katty said after the visit. “They’re like guardian angels that my mom sent me, and I’m just really happy that I have them in my life. I wouldn’t be the person I am if it weren’t for them.”
Katty was 7 years old when her mother, Esther Arteaga, 32, and a 74-year-old co-worker were shot to death behind a gas station counter in Carson, California. It happened, Detective Jorge Padilla said, in the early morning hours of Nov. 4, 2006, when a botched attempt at a robbery turned into a double-murder.
The assailants never did take any money from the store. It was Arteaga’s first day on the job, and the 74-year-old co-worker was days away from retirement and just showing her the ropes.
Padilla responded to the scene with Senior Deputy Nancy Bowley, who was a trainee at the time, and Sgt. Blanca Arevalo, who had been patrolling for only about three months.
The scene was gruesome, but Arevalo said that driving to the four-unit complex in Wilmington where Katty lived, and informing Katty of her mother’s death when she opened the door herself, was especially painful.
Two men and a teenager were arrested within a week of the shooting after a fingerprint on a Slim Jim package led them to one of the suspects, Padilla said.
The three deputies felt an unusually personal connection to the case, which Bowley said was due in part to their personalities.
“There’s something about her and her grandmom that makes you fall in love with them,” she said.
Padilla added, “We made a bond between us three that we would never forget this little girl.”
Katty and her grandmother were struggling to make ends meet even before the shooting, so the deputies decided to bring her gifts for Christmas.
When a local newspaper wrote about their visit, readers touched by Katty’s circumstances sent an overwhelming number of gifts to the Sheriff’s Department, which added to an array of presents already amassed by deputies.
At first only one box was supposed to hold the gifts, but after they were placing bikes in their hallways, they resorted to their evidence storage room to hold all of the clothes, gift cards and other presents. One attorney even walked into a precinct and asked to anonymously fund her education at a Catholic school, Padilla said. Padilla could not believe the man was serious, but his donations supported years of Katty’s tuition.
As the years went by and Katty grew up, the deputies would stop at Katty’s home on Christmas and also kept in touch by phone every few months. The deputies said the girl’s young age as well as her personality endeared them to her and led them to keep in touch.
“We see so many things in our profession, and they all touch you in certain ways, but some of them just hit you,” Padilla said. “That one stayed.”
About 18 months ago, Katty and her grandmother moved to Baton Rouge to live near family and also because her neighborhood in Los Angeles still reminded her of her mother’s death, Padilla said.
When a supervisor heard about her quinceañera, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department agreed to send the three deputies who had kept in touch with Katty for the better part of a decade to Baton Rouge to wish her well.
“You see so much evil in this world and that’s all we ever deal with,” Arevalo said. “We hardly ever deal with the other side. … So just to show her that there’s still kindness and good people in this world … is the least we can do for her.”