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Police search for brother’s killer, family worries for little sister

October 24, 1997

LAS VEGAS (AP) _ Outside is off-limits for 5-year-old Sherry Episioco. Her parents won’t even let her near the front door since her big brother was fatally shot while walking her to kindergarten.

``Sherry, Sherry, get away from there,″ Carlito Episioco yelled, pulling his daughter away from the doorway on Thursday.

On the way to school Monday, 13-year-old John Episioco was shot once in the back of the head. Police found the little girl standing next to her brother, screaming and crying.

John’s testimony against a gang member last year brought a murder conviction in the death of a friend. The Episiocos say their son was shot in retaliation for his testimony and they worry their daughter could suffer the same fate.

At their home just west of downtown Las Vegas, family members came with condolences, remembering John. But his father was silent, staring at nothing.

``Right now, all I can do is cry,″ he finally said, pressing his hand against his brow.

Police said they believe another teen-ager shot John, possibly after asking for a cigarette. They are unsure about a motive.

``At this point we have no evidence linking the shooting Monday to his testimony in the homicide trial,″ homicide Lt. Wayne Peterson said.

Sherry looked at pictures of potential suspects, but was unable to identify anyone, police said. But they said they are confident in their witness, who they say is bright and articulate.

John friends were gang members, but John wasn’t in a gang, police and family members said.

``That’s the only friends he has around here. They’re thugs,″ John’s cousin, Robert Episioco, 21, said.

John got mostly Bs in school and joined an after-school boxing program. But the gangs weren’t far away.

John was sitting in a car next to his friend, Alexander Arroyo, 14, when Arroyo was fatally shot last year. John had nightmares, his father said.

His testimony helped convict Jerry Lara, 19, of murder, but an appeal is pending.

Episioco, a Merchant Marine who was transferred to the United States from the Philippines five years ago, believed he had found a ``peaceful, good neighborhood″ for his wife and four children. Housing was affordable and the children could walk to school.

``I keep telling my son, ‘Do not join a gang.’ He said he’s not a member,″ Episioco said in broken English.

Now, Sherry stays at home. She races around the house, her brown hair bobbing.

Her parents said they don’t know if she will go back to kindergarten; the principal has offered to provide counseling. Family members said she still believes John is in the hospital.

Sherry will be taken to view her brother’s body this weekend.