NBI starts probe on Nicole's death

By Edu Punay, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jan 07 2013 08:18 AM | Updated as of Jan 07 2013 09:25 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has started its own probe into the case of Stephanie Nicole Ella, the seven-year-old girl killed by a stray bullet during the New Year revelry in Caloocan City.

An NBI team went to the site of the incident on Saturday to look for further leads on the case and supported findings of police investigators that the culprit behind the reported indiscriminate firing could be a resident of the neighborhood.

Initial findings of NBI agents, according to the bureau’s lawyer Danielito Lalusis, showed the fatal bullet originated from about 50 meters away from where the victim was hit.

Lalusis said their men are set to continue their own investigation this week to gather more evidence in the area.

The NBI started its parallel investigation upon orders of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Friday.

De Lima tasked the NBI to track down the person who fired the gun that felled Ella.

De Lima visited the victim’s wake last Friday night.

“We assure the family that justice will be served in the death of Stephanie,” she said.

Ella was struck in the head by a stray bullet while she was watching fireworks on New Year’s Eve. She died at the East Avenue Medical Center.

Four men have already been picked up for questioning and they are facing charges of alarm and scandal, as well as possible additional charges of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide, for firing a handgun during the New Year revelry.

The police had also created a special task group to focus on the investigation on Ella’s death.

Superintendent Jackie Candelario, task force spokesman of the Northern Police District, said they started cross matching the 15 slugs recovered at the scene.

He said at least 45 bullets of .45 caliber were also subjected to ballistic testing.

“Once found that any of these were fired on New Year’s Eve, its owner would be charged with illegal discharge of firearms,” Candelario said.

He said three more slugs of still unknown caliber were recovered by the victim’s neighbors in the vicinity and would be turned over to the police.

Caloocan City police chief Senior Superintendent Rimas Calixto said they are now focusing on 32 registered gun owners in the neighborhood within the 50-meter radius.

Calixto said the number has been narrowed down from the original 45 people with registered caliber .45 pistols in the area on file with the Firearms and Explosives Division (FED) at the Philippine National Police.

Calixto said owners of guns other than .45 caliber pistols have been excluded since the specimen found in the head of the victim was from a .45 caliber.

Candelario said the 32 have been requested to appear at the FED in Camp Crame for a cross matching of their slug records on file against the slug found in the victim’s head.

He said the police are willing to escort the gun owners for their safety and to be able to clear their name.

Aside from the initial 11 slugs found in the 50-meter radius determined by the police and the three more slugs dug up by police the other day, a concerned citizen surrendered another slug to the police, bringing the total to 15 under ballistics examination.

Candelario said everybody is still a suspect, even the persons initially tagged as suspects in the death of Ella but were later cleared by the city prosecutor’s office.

Candelario said the charges of alarm and scandal filed against Juan Agus, the gun owner, and his three friends could be amended if any new evidence comes up.

The four were picked up for questioning after admitting they fired .45 caliber pistol during the New Year revelry. Ballistic examination results however showed the slug recovered from the victim’s head differed from the bullets they used during the revelry. - Jerry Botial, Pete Laude