Father of 7-year-old shot: 'She died in my arms'

Jacksonville police searching for men, vehicles involved in shootout

By Jenese Harris - Reporter/anchor, Steve Patrick - News4Jax digital managing editor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The father of Heidy Rivas Villanueva was in the car with her and a younger child Saturday evening when a bullet entered the vehicle and struck the 7-year-old in the head.

They were waiting while the wife and mother was shopping for groceries at El Tapatio on 103rd Street. About 6 p.m., a shootout began between two groups of people elsewhere in the strip mall, and the family was caught in the crossfire. 

"She died in my arms," said Heidy's father, who we are not identifying since the gunmen have not been caught.  "I was with my daughter until the last second of her life. I don't know how I am going to live with this. It's going to take time to recover. I don't think I can."

Rather than taking his daughter for her first day of first grade at Sadie Tillis Elementary School, this Honduran couple had to begin planning how to get her body back to where they came from and hold a funeral.

"I going to send her back home to my country because that where we came from," he said. "Maybe, one day, I will go back and take flowers to her grave, because I am not going to be able to do it here."

The man said he moved his family here with the hope of giving his two daughters a better life. He said Heidy was full of joy, loved playing outside, drawing and dreamed of a bright future. 

"She had already planned out her future, her life. She had already chosen her career path and all her dreams are gone," the man said. "They destroyed me as her father."

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help with the travel and funeral expenses. Click here if you would like to help.

A memorial of flowers, Teddy bears and toys continued to grow at the mall where Heidy was killed. A memorial for Heidy will be held at the strip mall at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

What police know

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said two groups were in the strip mall when they began shooting at each other. Investigators estimated between 13 and 15 shots were fired.

"It all unfolded right in front of me. They started shooting. We were just in the car in the middle of all the shooting."

The grieving father is begging for the shooters to turn themselves in.   

An $11,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest of the shooters. Anyone who saw or knows anything about the shooting is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 866-845-TIPS. 

Police posted photos of the persons of interest and a vehicle, hoping someone can help locate them.

According to our records Heidy is the fourth child under 17 year old that has been killed by gun violence this year. She is the 20th child to die from gun violence since 2016. A vigil will be held for the child tomorrow at 7 pm If you would like to help the family pay for funeral expenses, we have posted a link to this story on our website. live on the westside JH C4 TLS

According to News4Jax records, Heidy is the fourth child under 17 years old who has been killed by gun violence in Jacksonville this year, and the 20th child in Jacksonville be killed by gunfire since 2016.

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