SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) — A California man was charged on Tuesday with attempted murder in the shooting of an Afghanistan war veteran at a homecoming party during what authorities said was a fight over football teams.
But the attorney for 19-year-old Ruben Ray Jurado said his client was apparently under attack when shots were fired at Christopher Sullivan at the party to welcome him home for the holidays.
Prosecutors in San Bernardino County charged Jurado with attempted murder and multiple sentencing enhancements for using a firearm. Jurado had surrendered himself to authorities a day earlier for investigation in the shooting that critically wounded the 22-year-old Purple Heart recipient.
Authorities said Jurado, who had played football with Sullivan in high school, began arguing with Sullivan’s brother over football teams at the party Friday night and then punched him. Sullivan intervened and Jurado pulled a gun and fired multiple shots, hitting Sullivan in the neck, police said.
Sullivan remains in critical condition. His relatives say the gunfire shattered his spine and left him paralyzed from the neck down.
“He’s opening his eyes more,” his 20-year-old brother Brandon Sullivan told the Associated Press. “We’re just waiting day by day.”
Sullivan was wounded in a suicide bombing attack last year while serving with the military in Afghanistan. He suffered a cracked collarbone and brain damage in the attack and had been recovering in Kentucky, where he is stationed, before coming home for the holidays.
Defense attorney Michael J. Holmes said earlier on Tuesday that he wanted to talk to his client and the district attorney before commenting further on the case.
“It appears that he was being attacked and he was on the ground and was being kicked in the back, stomach, the head, and that is consistent with the injuries that I observed,” Holmes said. “It is alleged at that point that Mr. Sullivan was shot.”
Sullivan was an avid wrestler and football player in high school in San Bernardino, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles. He had nine months to go in the military and then planned to become a firefighter or police officer. He always liked to help people, his brother said.
“Say there was a person at school who never had friends or nothing — Chris would be the person who would go up to him and try to be his friend. He didn’t like people to feel alone,” Brandon Sullivan said. “He always had a smile on his face.”
On Friday night, Sullivan’s friend Peter Baltimore said he was supposed to attend the party but didn’t make it. The 21-year-old said he called his friend the next morning and was surprised when it went to voicemail because Sullivan always answered his phone.
“You don’t think something like that would happen at a homecoming party for someone who has been serving their country,” said Baltimore, who had planned to train with Sullivan, a fellow mixed martial arts fighter, in the coming year.
“We’re all praying for him.”
Associated Press Writer Kristin M. Hall contributed to this report from Nashville, Tenn.