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Bronx Shooting Victim Celebrates His 6th Birthday in a Wheelchair

By Patrick Wall | March 21, 2013 9:54am

MORRISANIA — The children who arrived Sunday to celebrate Cincer Baltazar’s sixth birthday boomeranged around the Ninja Turtles-themed party room, chasing one another with balloon swords, bouncing next to a stereo and devouring Boo Blue and Leapin’ Lime cotton candy.

But Cincer (pronounced "sincere") sat still at a side table, the hood of his sweatshirt pulled up and his arms folded in an X across his chest. He didn’t feel well.

The woman seated beside him, Linda Kemp, leaned in as he whispered to her which crayon to use for each Turtle’s mask on a coloring sheet.

Kemp, who is president of the Robert Fulton Terrace tenant association, had organized the party in the apartment building’s community room using her own money and donations from local officials, even though she hardly knew Cincer or his family.

She had decided to help the boy and his mother after she noticed him seated at an event wearing sparkling white shoes. Soon she learned why the shoes were so clean — a shooting victim, Cincer can no longer walk.

“We talk about all the kids that die,” Kemp said, speaking of gun violence. “Nobody talks about the kid that survives that crap. It affects him for the rest of his life.”

At about 10:15 p.m. on Nov. 8, 2011, Cincer’s father, Bobby Baltazar, was returning the 4-year-old to his mother after taking him out for ice cream.

They had just reached the door of the Grant Avenue homeless shelter where Cincer was staying with his mother, when Mauricio Acosta, then 17, approached Baltazar, demanded his red jacket, and pulled out a gun from the waistband of his pants, according to a criminal complaint.

Baltazar shouted, “There are cameras and a little boy here!”

But Acosta stepped forward with the gun, the complaint said. Baltazar then tried to wrest it from him and, as they struggled, the weapon discharged.

The bullet grazed Cincer’s chin, entered his collarbone, struck his spine and exited through his back.

Today, he is paralyzed from the waist down.

“It’s been hard,” said Cincer’s mother, Lateaqua Suarez, 24.

For the six months Cincer was hospitalized after the shooting, Suarez left the shelter and slept on a hospital couch.

She was there with him on his fifth birthday, sitting by his side while he quietly played with a few toys.

When he was discharged in April, she moved him to the first place she could find — a third-floor apartment in a Tremont building with no elevator.

Each day, Suarez inches Cincer down the stairs in his wheelchair to wait for the school bus. (He attends a school at a Westchester children’s hospital that offers academic classes, medical care and therapy.)

When he returns, Suarez pulls him back upstairs, step by step.

At home, Cincer crawls around the apartment and Suarez helps him reach things.

She also administers his medicine, stretches his limbs, empties his catheter and helps him into the special vest he must wear at all times to straighten his spinal cord.

Suarez also has an 8-month-old daughter, and the two sleep in the living room so that Cincer can stay in the bedroom, where his medical equipment is stored. (That room is now plastered with images of superheroes and mutant turtles.)

“To this day, I feel like, if this is what God had in mind for me, then I just have to live one day at a time,” Suarez said at the party, eyeing Cincer in his wheelchair. “No matter what way he is, he’s still mine.”

Immediately after Cincer was shot, Bobby Baltazar picked up the gun, chased Acosta and his accomplices and shot one as he fled.

Acosta, the only person charged, was indicted on charges of assault, attempted robbery and weapons possession. He plans to plead not guilty, said his lawyer, Patrick Higgins.

In jail since the shooting, Acosta’s next court appearance is set for April 5.

At Cincer’s party, Baltazar said he no longer thinks about the young man charged with harming his child.

“I leave it in God’s hands,” he said.

Suarez, who has not worked since the shooting, recently applied for a mailroom job at a Manhattan law firm.

With a sore back from wheeling Cincer up and down the stairs and concern about the time it would take to get him out of the apartment in an emergency, Suarez has started to look for a place that is wheelchair accessible, but still affordable.

Cincer may be eligible for some crime-victim funds to help cover the cost of moving, according to an official in the Bronx District Attorney’s office.

Though The Bronx’s crime rate has plummeted over the past two decades, it remains the highest per capita rate in the city, according to the DA's office.

Last year, a quarter of the city's felony assaults and nearly a quarter of its robberies were committed in The Bronx, prosecutors said.

And while Bronxites make up 17 percent of the city’s residents, they account for 30 percent of its shooting victims, the office added.

For many of those victims, life is split into before and after the crime.

Last year, Bronx crime victims received $1.87 million to help pay for medical treatment, replacement property, burial costs and other expenses, according to the state Office of Victim Services, which distributes funds that are collected entirely from offenders.

Meanwhile, Cincer is learning to use a mechanical brace that allows him to power his legs by swiveling his trunk as he pushes a walker.

Though his doctors say Cincer will remain permanently paralyzed, Suarez is convinced he will walk on his own one day.

At the birthday party, Suarez gave Cincer some medicine. Before long, he had pulled down his hood and started to smile.

When a group of children lined up, ready to be showered with Silly String, Cincer wheeled himself to the middle of the row.

“I tell him he’s just as normal as any other kid,” Suarez said. “If anything, even stronger, because of what he’s gone through.”