At 6 years old, Aiden Leos had an uncanny ability to empathize with others.
One day at the playground, a boy with autism flung himself to the ground. Most of the boys around him ran away.
Aiden knelt down eye to eye with the boy, who had said he didn’t want to talk.
“It’s OK. You don’t have to talk,” he said in a gentle voice, extending a hand to help the boy up. Then, the two played together.
That was just one example of the kindness Aiden exuded during his short life, his mother, Joanna Cloonan, told the hundreds who attended a memorial service Saturday at Calvary Chapel Yorba Linda.
Two weeks earlier, a gunman fatally shot Aiden during a suspected road rage incident on the 55 Freeway in Orange as his mother was driving him to kindergarten.
Perhaps it was the sheer randomness of it — the everyday nature of a family’s morning commute, combined with the youth and innocence of the victim — that has garnered worldwide interest. The reward for information about the shooting quickly grew to $500,000, with donations coming in from politicians, a local cafe owner and many others.
“If Aiden would like for anything to be transformed as he left this world and made his way to heaven, he would want all of us to love one another and be kind,” Cloonan said. “Violence is an unacceptable way to settle our differences. There is currently so much hurt and pain within our world. It’s become so apparent, and because of this, my son lost his life.”
On the morning of May 21, Aiden was riding in a booster seat in the back of his mother’s car.
According to what his mother later told another motorist, they were in the carpool lane when she started switching lanes to exit and another car cut her off.
She gestured at the people inside and continued trying to get off the freeway. A bullet entered her car from the rear.
She pulled over and took the bleeding boy into her arms.
The California Highway Patrol has released photos of a white 2018 or 2019 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen suspected to be involved in the shooting. The driver was female, and investigators believe a man in the passenger seat fired the gun.
During the memorial, which was streamed live for the public, Aiden’s mother, sister Alexis and grandmother recalled memories of the young boy they described as a “little empath” who was mature beyond his years.
Alexis said her little brother was an “angel, too pure and innocent for this world.” Her voice trembled when she recalled how Aiden would call her “beautiful” or “so lovely.”
She described a gleeful kid who liked to hum, tell jokes and make up silly dances.
But there were some things that made him different from other children his age.
For instance, she said, Aiden regularly came into her room to sit down on the floor next to her while she was on her computer. He would hold his teddy bear and just watch her.
“Aren’t you bored just watching me type on my computer?” she’d ask him.
“No. I’m OK. I just want to be with you,” he told her.
Alexis described her brother’s death as the “worst pain I’ve ever gone through in my life” and lamented what would never be.
“I don’t get to play ‘Mario Kart’ with my brother or take him to the park ever again because of the monster who took Aiden’s life,” she said.
In her address, Cloonan urged viewers to look within themselves “for the world to become safe and harmonious for our children and their children to come.”
On his sixth birthday, Cloonan said, Aiden made a wish as he blew out his candles.
He looked at his family and said: “I just wish for everyone to be happy.”