OAKLAND -- A sleeping toddler was seemingly safe in bed lying next to his father early Wednesday morning when at least one gunman fired shots through their bedroom window, killing them both. It was the second time in three weeks a gunman shot into an East Oakland house and killed a young child.

Police are investigating whether the slaying of 20-year-old Andrew Thomas and his 16-month-old son, Drew Jackson, are connected to the Saturday shooting death of their cousin, Alquino Rivera, in East Oakland.

"We believe this was targeted," Chief Sean Whent said during a news conference.

The shooting was particularly jarring because it claimed the life of a toddler, and it underscored the growing fear that one doesn't have to leave the home to fall prey to the violence that is gripping Oakland.

Drew Jackson, 1, and his 20-year-old father, Andrew Thomas, were gunned down in their Oakland home Aug. 7, 2013.
Drew Jackson, 1, and his 20-year-old father, Andrew Thomas, were gunned down in their Brookfield Village home Aug. 7, 2013, in Oakland. (Contributed)

"This is not the norm at all," Whent said. "These people were brazen enough to go into the backyard of this home and open fire. This is tragic."

Last month, 8-year-old Alaysha Carradine was killed, and two children and their grandmother were wounded during a sleepover when a gunman sprayed bullets into her friend's Dimond district apartment.

"It is sickening that we have to relive this again," said Olis Simmons, who runs the nonprofit YouthUprising.

Preparing for funeral

Thomas grew up in Oakland but had moved with his mother to Fresno and was preparing to relocate again to Sacramento, said Konya Baylis, his 33-year-old aunt.

She was hosting Thomas, his son and several other relatives who arrived last weekend for a family birthday party. After their cousin was killed, they decided to stay to prepare for the funeral.

Baylis said there were 16 people inside her home on the 400 block of Ghormley Avenue in Oakland's violence-prone Brookfield Village neighborhood early Wednesday morning, including five relatives inside the bedroom where gunfire erupted at 2:46 a.m.

"I ran out of my room, and my sister had (baby Drew) in her arms," Baylis said. "They asked me to do mouth-to-mouth, but I was just too emotional. I couldn't do it."

The toddler, who was breathing and bleeding from his face, was placed on the couch, when Baylis went into the bedroom to find the boy's father laying across the bed. "He made a little move, and I knew that was his last breath right there," she said.

No one else sleeping in the bedroom -- three children and two adults -- was wounded in the shooting.

Nowhere is safe

The slayings of Jackson and Carradine evoke a gruesome four-month stretch in late 2011 when three young children were fatally shot.

What isn't lost on many community leaders is that while 3-year-old Carlos Nava, 5-year-old Gabriel Martinez and 2-year-old Hiram Lawrence Jr. were killed out in public, Jackson and Carradine were shot despite being inside what should have been a safe home.

"There's no doubt this sends a message," said the Rev. Rosevelt Taylor, who started Save Our Babies after Lawrence Jr.'s slaying. "It's almost as if not only do you have to get in before dark, but you have to turn the lights off. Your home used to be a place you could relax, but not anymore."

Councilman Larry Reid, who represents that section of East Oakland, noted that several hours before the shooting he was attending National Night Out events where residents said they were afraid to sit on their porch. "Unfortunately, if you live in the flatlands of Oakland, you are not safe, even if you're inside your home," he said.

Reid recalled other instances over the years of gunman firing into homes. "It's the same," he said. "Only back then it wasn't kids losing their lives."

The surge in child murders is perhaps the most heart-wrenching part of Oakland's latest crime wave. Jackson is the youngest person shot in Oakland since at least the 1990s. Five children younger than 10 have been slain in the last two years. Before 2011, the last gun violence claiming the life of a child under 10 was in 1997.

"What makes it even more crazy," Reid said, "is there are people who know who are taking these kids lives, and they don't call in to help the police."

Investigation underway

Police gave few details of their investigation into Wednesday's slayings. Baylis said officers told her they believed the shooting was connected to the death of their cousin Alquino Rivera, who was shot while sitting in a car in the 8000 block of Ney Avenue. Six-time felon Kendell Eatmon, 33, of Oakland, has been charged in Rivera's death, officials said Wednesday.

The 16-month-old Jackson was Thomas' only child, Baylis said. "He loved to play. He loved to be with his dad."

Baylis said the family was struggling to cope with the loss of three loved ones in less than a week. They will mourn together, but not at Baylis' house. "It's not safe," she said. "Ain't nobody going to stay there."

Staff writers David DeBolt and Katie Nelson and librarian Veronica Martinez contributed to this story. Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.