Bill Skeffington was having lunch with friends last week when talk turned to Aiden Leos, a 6-year-old who was in his booster seat when police say he was shot and killed by an angry driver as his mother drove on the 55 Freeway.
The businessmen all agreed on one thing: They had to do something. And that something was reward money – money that could go to anyone who offers information leading to an arrest in Aiden’s killing on May 21.
One person pitched in $10,000. Another did the same. By the end of lunch, they committed to spending $50,000. That was on top of $50,000 offered by the family, which has in the last week been matched by several others. To date, the reward stands at $400,000.
Offering a bounty is as old as the frontier days. But does it work? That’s questionable, experts say. A reward is a tool that, sometimes, can produce a needed tip. And in a case like this one, where the community is outraged by a senseless loss, a reward also can be something else — an outlet for communal grief.
“Giving money is an expression from everyday residents simply wanting justice,” said Arthur Lurigio, a psychology professor at Loyola University in Chicago who has studied the value of rewards in criminal cases.
“Whether it works is a difficult question to answer,” Lurigio said. “Here was our standard: If it were not for the reward being paid, would the crime not be solved? Or would the crime be solved otherwise if enough police and resources were placed to further the investigation?”
“We never could really answer that question,” Lurigio added, referencing a of a study he and others did on a national program called Crime Stoppers.
There’s also the question of whether giving someone money to report on information “undermines the development of a moral code that we should all have,” Lurigio said.
“There’s a lot of research in psychology that if you provide an extrinsic reward, you undermine the motivation to engage in a behavior that is intrinsically good.”
“I want people to understand (rewards) have implications.”
Lurigio said he is not against offering rewards. He supports them if they lead to arrests, especially in such heinous crimes as that of a child’s killing.
In Aiden’s case, a growing reward kitty and other contributions is the community saying “I’m so outraged, I have to do something. I can’t let this go. I have to contribute to the collective,” Lurigio said.
In addition to reward money from various residents, business owners and the county’s Board of Supervisors, who pledged $100,000 of taxpayer funds, other efforts include donations as small as $5 and $10 that have added up to more than $362,000 in two GoFundMe accounts for the family. Contributors included Station Donuts in Yorba Linda, which created a special donut in Aiden’s honor and raised $8,150 in just three days, and the Los Alamitos Bronco Pirates baseball team, which donated $160.
The GoFundMe accounts will go to the family. The reward money is separate, and meant to encourage anyone who saw or knows the shooter and the woman driver to come forward.
Authorities say a woman was driving a white Volkswagen Golf SportWagen on May 21 on the 55 Freeway, near Chapman Avenue in Orange, when a male passenger shot at the Leos’ Chevrolet during what police have called a road rage incident. The bullet went through the back of the Chevrolet and struck the boy, who was in his booster in the back seat of the car driven by his mother, Joanna Cloonan.
Rewards are not common in Orange County. In recent years, one successful reward campaign led to the capture of three men who escaped the local county jail and eventually drove to northern California. In that 2016 case, four tipsters split $150,000, with $100,000 going to a homeless man in San Francisco who alerted police to the fugitives.
Officials can’t say if rewards lead to arrests. “Whether it’s an effective tool or not, it’s not something we track,” said Orange County Sheriff Sgt. Todd Hylton. “Determining the effectiveness is hard to quantify.”
California Highway Patrol Officer John DeMatteo also couldn’t speak to the effectiveness of reward money. Neither agency is involved in the rewards offers in Aiden’s killing.
But CHP is getting more tips since they released a photo of the suspects’ car, a white Volkswagen Golf SportWagen. “It’s a newer model, and not an extremely common vehicle,” DeMatteo said.
Large four by 10-foot black banners are going up across Orange County and the Inland Empire, with the question “Who killed Aiden?” The banners feature a website, (aiden-reward.com), with photos of the suspects’ car and other information. That was created by people affiliated with the Huntington Beach martial arts school, Z-Ultimate Self Defense Studios.
“When I heard about this, it wrecked me,” said Kris Eszlinger, of the martial arts school. He and colleague Brian Hyman planned to put up 25 banners in recent days.
One of the banners is outside Watson’s Soda Fountain and Café in Orange, where District Attorney Todd Spitzer held a press conference last Friday beseeching the suspects to turn themselves in. “You killed a little boy. A little boy who today should be in kindergarten,” he said, using a bank of cameras to address the shooter directly.
Skeffington, who along with his friends are putting up $50,000 of the $400,000 pledged in rewards, owns Watson’s and several other businesses. Late last week Watson’s and Rockwell’s Bakery in Villa Park and San Clemente, also owned by Skeffington, started selling custom sugar cookies featuring a teddy bear and the words “Justice for Aiden.” All money raised will be added to reward funds.
Bakery manager Kendyl Skeffington said the cookies have sold out every day.
Source: Orange County Register