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Toddler killed on highway latest victim in shootings spike

November 8, 2021 GMT

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — A toddler was killed by a stray bullet on an Oakland freeway while he slept in his car seat, the latest victim of a recent spike in shootings on San Francisco Bay Area highways in the last two years, some of them attributed to gangs.

The nearly 2-year-old boy was killed Saturday around 2 p.m. while riding in a Lexus sedan on Interstate 880 driven by his mom when the car was struck by gunfire, the California Highway Patrol said. The boy was rushed to the hospital, where he died.

The evidence suggests the victims were not targeted but got caught in the crossfire between two cars with people exchanging gunfire, officials said. The CHP said it had no other information Monday and urged anyone who may have witnessed the shooting to contact them.

The boy, Jasper Wu, was riding from San Francisco to his home in Fremont with three adults and two other children when he was shot.

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Jasper was asleep when the bullet flew through the windshield and struck him, according to Carl Chan, the president of Oakland’s Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, who has been helping the family with funeral arrangements and setting up online fundraising efforts.

“How could you ever expect a bullet to fly in and hit your child while asleep? No one would expect that,” Chan told the Mercury News.

Jasper’s father was traveling from China on Monday to bury his son, Chan said.

“Jasper will never wake up again. This is horrible,” Chan said. “Today is my birthday and I’m saying that because I’m so lucky to be celebrating my birthday and Jasper could not have a chance to celebrate his own second birthday in December.”

The freeway was shut for several hours, causing traffic to back up for miles.

Last month, a 3-year-old boy riding with his father on Interstate 580 in Oakland was wounded in the foot when someone opened fire on the vehicle, hitting the boy who was in the back seat and striking the vehicle several times, the CHP said.

Highway shootings are difficult to investigate because witnesses are traveling at high rates of speed and collecting evidence can be challenging, said Mary Knox, senior deputy district attorney for neighboring Contra Costa County.

Knox said Contra Costa County saw a spike in recent years in gun violence tied to gangs on segments of Highway 4 and Interstate 80. That led officials to install a surveillance system of cameras and license plate readers that she said significantly reduced gun violence on freeways there.

“Gang members were actually following each other up onto the freeways to do the shootings because they knew how challenging those investigations are,” Knox said. “Witnesses are traveling at like 65 miles an hour so they’re miles down the freeway by the time we even know we have a crime and finding the exact shooting location to recover casings and things was very challenging.”

Knox said preventing innocent bystanders from getting caught in the crossfire was exactly why officials wanted to set up the freeway security system.

“It was just so crucial to get our program up and running before a tragedy like this happened,” Knox said.