A Question of Hope

One family's struggle to escape the devastation of gang culture

Boy's court-appointed attorney, Peter Leander, believes that his client's religious enlightenment was genuine, unlike that of a lot of convicts who play the angles.

"Joseph was the only client I ever had where a jailer was willing to come in from Durango and testify before the judge that the kid was for real," says Leander. "That guard caught a lot of flak from the administration, but Joseph is such a good kid.

"He did not want to go to trial. He said he needed to admit what he'd done and serve his time. His mother is also very, very nice. She showed up at every court appearance. After the sentencing, she had a bottle of cologne, Fino Davidoff, delivered to me to say thanks."

Joseph Ayala Jr.
Paolo Vescia
Joseph Ayala Jr.
The scene of the crime
photos by Paolo Vescia
The scene of the crime

Boy was sentenced to four and one-half years.

Pastor Hogan was impressed with his demeanor as a convict: "I don't ever remember him complaining. Ever. Instead, it was all about who he was talking to about Jesus. He asked us to get him Bible literature in Spanish for the inmates who didn't speak English. The only thing he worried about was how he could help the others who were in jail. It was like he was the chaplain."

A Free Man

When Boy got out of prison, he lived for a time with his mother, who had remarried and moved to Flagstaff. When he returned to Phoenix, he attended Christ Temple and began his ministry to his Hispanic brethren.

According to Pastor Hogan, Boy volunteered to fix neighbors' cars and used the contact to proselytize .

Boy brought a lot of new people to Christ Temple that first year he was out of prison, but he told his mother in 1996 that he'd decided that he could not rest until he brought his father, Joseph Ayala Sr., to church.

"'I'm going to bring my whole family to the Lord,'" Adela remembers Boy saying.

She beams with the memory.

He moved in with his dad, says Pastor Hogan, because, "He desperately wanted to build a relationship with his father."

Adela was leery of Boy's effort to convert his dad.

She says her ex-husband's "girlfriend had a prison record and all her kids were in gangs. He was hanging around with what I call heathens."

Still, by all accounts, Boy was making some progress with his father.

And the young man's own life also changed for the better.

Joseph Ayala Jr. was accepted into the Christian Life College, a Bible school in Stockton, California. He'd won a full scholarship. But he was determined to save his father's soul first.

On a mild winter's evening, as Boy labored over the power steering on his white Camaro, his dad stood next to the car drinking beer. The Ayalas were joined by Boy's cousin, Johnny Pompa, a handsome young man just out of prison.

Witnesses said that shortly after 6 p.m., a late-model, primer-gray Monte Carlo rolled up 67th Avenue. Driven by a member of the West Side Chicanos, the car held several gangbangers, including the children of Joseph Ayala Sr.'s girlfriend.

According to police reports, Johnny Pompa argued with the occupants of the vehicle. He sucker-punched the driver and knocked him out. When the victim came to, he reached into the Monte Carlo and pulled out an automatic rifle with a banana clip attached. Shouting declarations of loyalty to West Side Chicanos, the young man opened fire.

Joseph Sr. died instantly.

Pompa, the aggressor, was not scratched.

Having pulled himself out from under the car as the shooting broke out, Boy threw himself on top of his father's body in a hopeless attempt to shield him from further injury. For his effort, he took a single round in his skull.

The bullet blew the top of Boy's head off. A detective noted in his report that brain matter oozed out of the wound.

At the time of the shooting, Adela was remarried to a wonderful husband who had taken her away from the hard streets of Phoenix and settled her in peaceful Flagstaff. She had hoped her only son would soon be on his way to Bible college. Now the overwhelming pull of a rough neighborhood had condemned her boy to a nursing home for the rest of his life. There he would be tended by the caretakers as if he were an animal in a stable.

Adela's life, never easy, turned for the worse.

Adela Stands Up

In the vortex of this wrenching tragedy, Adela McCormick soldiered heroically on her son's behalf, demonstrating resolve unknown prior to the shooting.

Adela and Boy functioned as a team. Like musk oxen who close ranks against predators, Adela and her stricken son took on the world around them.

She refused to acknowledge the caregivers, and even family members, who said her son would never recover from his comalike state.

Boy also refused to quit.

Adela said he would improve, and he did. Adela said her son would communicate, and he did, even kissing the hands of visitors he recognized.

Yet the doctors insisted that Boy would not get over his wounds and that he would always require professional care.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Phoenix Concert Tickets