Ricky's father's letter
The caller ID showed it was their 13-year-old son on the phone, but a woman on the other end told Maria to come quickly. Her son, Ricky, needed help.
As Maria's husband, Rich, listened to his wife talk, he realized their son was in trouble. He'd been shot or stabbed after watching a movie at the South Bay Galleria in Redondo Beach.
"I had a billion things going through my head," Rich said. "I knew that (Ricky) was hurt and he was bleeding and he wasn't well enough to make the call. I didn't realize how bad it was until we got to the mall and we saw all the emergency vehicles. It was the worst feeling in my life. ...
That night, an unidentified assailant brutally stabbed Rich and Maria's son and his 13-year-old female friend as they sat talking on a bench outside the Galleria's AMC theaters. Out of nowhere, a man they did not know and had no contact with stabbed both of them in a totally unprovoked attack - and then vanished into the mall.
Nearly a month after the Dec. 29 stabbings, Ricky and his friend are recovering, but the assailant remains at large. On Thursday, Redondo Beach police and the FBI will announce a reward to try to entice someone to provide information help them find the attacker.
"My biggest fear is it's going to happen to somebody else," said Rich, who requested that his family's surname not be published to protect them.
Frustrated, the father wrote a lengthy, emotional letter to the Daily Breeze recently, describing the emotional night at the mall and at the hospital, asking for the newspaper to republish a sketch of the assailant, and expressing anger that a large shopping center like the South Bay Galleria did not have more surveillance cameras.
"This attack was completely unprovoked, random and senseless," the father wrote. "The attack was done by a cowardly, low-life, dirtbag thug. Only a gutless, spineless human being would prey on our most innocent and precious members of society - 13-year-old children!"
Rich and Maria arrived at the Galleria as paramedics worked on their son and his friend. Police officers kept them away from the crime scene on the third floor of the Hawthorne Boulevard mall. Rich said he thought about the parents who just two weeks earlier assembled in a fire station in Newtown, Conn., waiting for word on their children after a gunman opened fire in an elementary school.
"I remember being overwhelmed," the father said. "My mouth went dry. ... Nobody told us anything. Honestly, I did not know the fate of my son was until they wheeled him by on his gurney and I saw him put his thumbs up."
Maria rode in the ambulance to County Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. Rich followed, once he had made his way out of the Galleria's parking structure, which was backed up with traffic as police searched every car.
Doctors told the couple their son could die. His wounds were serious: He had been stabbed once in his left side, four times in his left arm and once in the heart. He required open heart surgery. Rich followed his son as he was wheeled to an elevator to head into emergency surgery.
"(Ricky) wasn't able to talk to me, not with words," Rich said. "I just told him that I loved him very much and I gave him the sign of the cross. He just looked at me in my eyes and he gave me another thumbs up."
Rich and Maria waited throughout the night as doctors worked to repair their son's wounds. Friends and family members joined them, praying for Ricky's recovery.
"We saw the outpouring and love and support for him and our family," Maria said.
In the same room, relatives of Ricky's friend waited as doctors performed surgery on her. Ricky's surgery took about four hours.
"My wife and I had to dig deep and try to find something to believe in and hold on to, in order to get us through the long, excruciating hours of surgery," Rich wrote in his letter. "I was so anxious to know the condition of my son but, by the same token, I was also very petrified to know."
The surgeon, whom Rich identified as Dr. Dennis Kim, soon brought word that Ricky had survived the surgery.
Ricky, later transferred to his family's medical provider, spent three weeks in the hospital. He is home now, and should recover fully and be back at school and riding his BMX bicycle in no time.
At home Wednesday, Ricky appeared fit, but still had a catheter attached to his right arm to administer antibiotics.
"I'm OK," Ricky said quietly. "I'm good."
For that, his family is grateful.
"I told him during this past two-week period, for every one evil person we encountered, we must have literally interacted with more than 100 awe-inspiring, kind, miraculous individuals," the father wrote in his letter. "These individuals ranged from the good Samaritan who called us that awful night, the awesome first responders at the mall who saved my boy's life, the detectives and Redondo Beach police officers working endless hours to catch this low-life, spineless thug, our astonishing friends, our incredible family members, our awesome neighbors, Ricky's school, and the amazing Harbor-UCLA staff!"
Ricky and his friend helped police create a sketch of the assailant. Redondo Beach police Detective Clint Daniels said investigators are working hard to put a name to the sketch.
Daniels called Ricky a "strong kid" and said his friend is home from the hospital as well and recovering.
"We're still working on it 100 percent of the day," Daniels said.
Police asked anyone with information to call detectives at 310-937-6685.
Rich said he will never let his son return to the Galleria mall. He is angry that security cameras did not adequately capture the assailant on video.
"It's just hard for me to understand why this is the case in this day and age," he said. "When I walk into 7-Eleven I see cameras everywhere I turn. It's just unbelievable and awfully disappointing to me that the South Bay Galleria mall does not have this same type of security in place!"
Rich said he does not want to shelter his son or turn him into a hermit, but he wants him to be safe and wants the assailant caught.
"I want to do whatever I can to help the next person so it doesn't happen to their kid," he said. "This guy went for kids, innocent kids that weren't provoking him. It's just a ticking time bomb waiting to go off."
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