Relatives of two young boys killed by gunfire as they played with kittens in the backyard of their Pennsylvania home were mourning them Thursday as authorities announced two men were charged with their slayings.
Brothers Jesus and Sebastian Perez-Salome, ages 8 and 9, and a third victim were killed Tuesday night in Lebanon. An adult and a teen were charged in the shooting, and police said they were seeking a third suspect.
In a phone interview Thursday from his home in Puerto Rico, the children’s uncle Felix Muniz Torres said their mother was working at a nearby convenience store when she heard the shots ring out.
She ran over to find them shot, he said. Her other child, who is 13, was fortunately at a school event.
“She’s in shock and is unable to speak coherently,” Muniz Torres said.
He described his nephews as “very innocent and polite,” always together playing, mostly with their superhero figures.
“They were very close,” he said.
Alex Torres Santos, 22, and a 16-year-old male were both charged with three counts of criminal homicide, Lebanon County District Attorney Pier Hess Graf said at a news conference in Lebanon on Thursday. They also face aggravated assault, conspiracy and weapons offenses related to the shooting in Lebanon, a small city in an agricultural region roughly 70 miles (110 kilometers) northwest of Philadelphia.
A third male is still being sought and will likely face similar charges, authorities said. Santos was on house arrest for several unrelated charges and was wearing an ankle monitor at the time of the shooting.
A 33-year-old neighbor who was wounded by a stray bullet underwent surgery and remains hospitalized but is expected to recover, authorities said.
The shooters apparently targeted the third person who was killed, 19-year-old Joshua Lugo-Perez, over what authorities called “a previous argument.” He and the boys lived at the home where the shooting occurred, but Lugo-Perez was not related to them.
Jesus Perez-Salome was pronounced dead at the scene. Sebastian Perez-Salome and Lugo-Perez both died a short time later at hospitals.
Once the autopsies are completed, the family will bring the boys back to Puerto Rico to be buried, Muniz Torres said. He expressed gratitude for the outpouring of support and donations responding to a Go Fund Me appeal to raise funds for their funeral.
The family had come to the United States in 2019 to chase the American dream of finding better opportunities than what was offered on their Caribbean island. But life had not been easy. Only a year ago, they had lost everything they owned in a fire at their previous apartment that started because of an electrical problem, Muniz Torres said.
A Lebanon County SWAT team arrested Santos at his apartment Wednesday. Authorities said he attempted to flee the residence but was captured there, while the teenage suspect was later arrested at a nearby apartment where he was trying to hide. Ammunition and multiple firearms were found at the apartment where Santos was arrested, authorities said.
Graf, the district attorney, said Thursday that the suspects could potentially face the death penalty, but that decision has not yet been made. It wasn't clear Thursday if either suspect had retained an attorney, and court records were not immediately available.
Brooke Schultz, a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative, contributed from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.