SAN JOSE -- Most of the candles had burned out and turned to clumps of wax by noon Sunday, but Malanie Agulto spotted two that still twinkled in memory of her older brother, the city's 40th homicide victim of the year.
"Look, two of them are still on," she said in the parking lot of the Arbor Apartments, a government-subsidized complex in southwest San Jose. "He was only 22, getting his life together, working two jobs, taking care of his family ... Everybody knew him as the quiet one."
Robert Agulto's slaying by gunfire early Saturday morning ties a grisly 16-year high of city homicides -- with most of two months to go. A dozen or so of his relatives and friends held a tearful candlelight vigil in his memory that night on the spot where he fell. On Sunday morning, they were making plans for his funeral and for putting on a carwash to help pay for it.
By the family's account, Agulto's death was not the result of gang warfare. They say it was an incidental consequence of a personal argument that got out of control between two other men. Adding to the tragedy, all three of the young men had known one another since childhood.
"That's what's so sad," Malanie Agulto said. "We all grew up around here. Our families know each other."
According to 16-year-old Jose Agulto, Robert was relaxing in the patio of their apartment when he saw a car pull alongside his best friend, who
"My brother went over to see what was going on and opened the door of the car," Jose said. "Then the guy shot him."
City police said they were not prepared to talk about a motive or any other details pending their investigation and a medical examiner's report. However, family members said the shooter did not have anything against their brother. If the shooter had an intended target, they said, it was Robert's best friend, but they did not think the difference between them was gang-related.
According to family members, Agulto suffered gunshots to the face, head and chest. As the shooter sped away, Agulto's best friend rushed him the hospital. Malanie Agulto, 20, said she had spoken with the friend Sunday morning and that he was shaken and extremely upset about what happened.
"He told me he's alive because of my brother," she said.
Her husband, Johny Dominguez, added about Robert, "He is a hero in his best friend's eyes and in our eyes, too."
Overcome by sadness
The oldest of five children, Robert Agulto attended Lietz Elementary and Dartmouth Middle schools in southwest San Jose before moving to Riverside in Southern California. He became a father there at age 18 before moving back to San Jose with his girlfriend.
He worked two jobs at crafts and party stores nearby, relatives said, and spent most of his free time with his three kids. He also spent leisure time following professional football, especially the Oakland Raiders. He never belonged to or wanted to join a street gang, they said, adding that Robert and his girlfriend were going to enroll in college in January.
Ironically, Malanie Agulto said, everybody involved in the tragedy lived or was closely connected to residents of the large apartment complex. She said their mother, Evelyn Agulto, and Robert's girlfriend were too overwhelmed by the tragedy to speak about it. Malanie said both families will have to deal with the consequences. Her family loses a loved one. The shooter's family will have to deal with his imprisonment and the shame he has brought upon them, she said.
"It's hard for us and hard for them," Malanie said about both families. "They lost someone due to the act of violence, and we lost somebody, too. This hurts our whole community."
Contact Joe Rodriguez at 408-920-5767. Follow him on Twitter.com/JoeRodMercury.