A more than $50,000 reward was being offered Thursday to find the killer of a 9-year-old girl who was was playing with her friends in front of her family's Anaheim home when she was fatally shot.
Ximena Meza was struck by at least one round outside the 2300 block of Greenacre Avenue (map) on Wednesday and later died at UC Irvine Medical Center. She would have been 10 next month.
Her father told NBC4 he heard gunfire before his daughter ran back to the residence bleeding from her side.
"She ran in there and she died in my arms. I just held her...I know she is with God right now," father William Meza said. "We don't have any idea about it. They were just playing right there. We just heard the shots -- three shots. She ran inside the apartment. When I grabbed her she was bleeding from the side.
"She was amazing -- awesome daughter. I just love her. She is an angel," Meza said.
No arrests had been reported Thursday. What began as a $5,000 reward for information in her killing reached $57,500 Thursday night with funding from the Anaheim Police Officers Association, the city of Anaheim, and the Orange County Attorney's Association.
Community members packed a recreation center Thursday night to demand justice for Ximena.
"I don't live in the area but this is my community. My son goes to the junior high. My kid goes to the school with the girl who was murdered," one resident said. "It upsets me."
Balloons, stuffed animals and other items were left outside the residence in memory of Ximena, the oldest of three sisters whose family moved to the neighborhood about three months ago. School excellence awards for math, language arts and other achievements also were placed at the site of the shooting.
One of the certificates called the fifth-grade student a "shining star."
"I'm not angry, I just have pain in my heart," grandfather Alonso Ortiz said.
The coroner's office identified the victim Thursday morning, hours after a 12-year-old boy discovered his playmate had been wounded by the gunfire. The two were among several children playing on the sidewalk in front of the apartments next to Brookhurst Park, police said.
"Her eyes were just like all rolled back," Hector Jiminez said.
Police were called to the neighborhood southwest of the 5 Freeway by witnesses who reported the sound of gunfire, said Anaheim Police Lt. Bob Dunn said.
Authorities are attempting to determine whether Ximena was caught in crossfire of a group of boys or men nearby.
"One male exited the white car and fired several rounds in the direction of a group of males," Anaheim Police Chief Raul Quezada said. "Ximena was struck with one of the rounds. Following the shooting, the male re-entered the vehicle and left."
"We have very limited information on any type of suspects. All we know is that there were some males involved. Whether that's more than one or six or more, we don't know," Dunn said.
Neighbors told NBC4 they have witnessed gang activity in a nearby park, but authorities have not confirmed whether the shooting involved gang members.
Anaheim Police believe potential witnesses at the park and apartment buildings nearby may provide them with additional information. Quezada said solving the case was the department's "number one priority."
"Innocent children shouldn't be dying so young," said neighbor Kimberly Rodriguez, who grew up in the neighborhood and left a stuffed animal with a flower at the site of the shooting. "It's just ridiculous.
"I can't imagine what (the family) is going through right now."
Ximena's aunt started a GoFundMe account at GoFundMe.com/g6n68k.
Beverly White contributed to this report.