Update: Suspect charged, wanted in shooting that killed woman, injured 1-year-old child

Zacchaeus Rashad Gaston
Zacchaeus Rashad Gaston (HPD)

HOUSTON – A woman is dead and a child was injured after a shooting at a west Houston apartment complex, Houston police said.

The shooting happened around 10:35 a.m. Thursday at the Apex at Royal Oaks apartment complex on Westpark Drive near Wilcrest Drive, authorities said.

Police said they responded to a shooting at the location, and when they arrived, they found a woman who had been shot four times and was in critical condition. Family has identified the mother and son as Layla Steele and Zeus. Steele’s family said Zeus’ first birthday was Thursday, the same day as the shooting.

Emergency responders performed CPR on the woman while they worked to transport her to a hospital, authorities said. Through CPR, they were able to get the woman’s pulse back, but police said she eventually succumbed to her injuries.

Authorities said the woman was holding a 1-year-old boy at the time of the shooting. He was shot in the ankle but is in stable condition and expected to survive, police said. He is expected to undergo surgery on Friday.

Witnesses told authorities they heard an argument happening in the parking lot prior to the incident. Authorities believe the woman was a victim of domestic violence.

Investigators said they believe the suspect is Zacchaeus Rashad Gaston, 27, the estranged boyfriend of Steele and father of her one-year-old-child.He is out on seven felony bonds and is wearing an ankle monitor, police said. The man fled the scene on foot. Police are currently working to locate him.

Gatson is charged with one count of murder and one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Gaston or in this case is urged to contact the HPD Homicide Division at 713-308-3600 or Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS.

“With the suspect being out on bond for seven major felonies, this could have been prevented,” Asst. Chief Patricia Cantu with the Houston Police Department said.

“It’s really sad because that child is going to grow up without a mother and the fact that he’s going to grow up knowing he was there,” neighbor Anna Mick said. “That blows my mind… Seven? What happened to three strikes, out. You’re gone-- but seven?”

The victim’s sister told KPRC 2 the justice system failed when the suspect was let out of jail. Family members of the victim identified him as Zaccheaus Gaston. Court documents seem to match up. Steele had a restraining order against Gaston, which was later dismissed.

“I’m sad, but I’m angry. I’m more angry than I am sad,” said Jazz Coulibaly, the victim’s sister. “The hardest part is that my sister died and it could’ve been prevented.”

Call for bond reform amid rash of deadly shootings

Andy Kahan with Crime Stoppers of Houston said Steele is now among 124 Harris County victims murdered by defendants released on multiple felony bonds. Kahan said 85 of those homicides happened between 2020 and 2021.

“We have no issue with someone getting out on bond, but what we’re seeing is those that are repeatedly being released, who are repeatedly getting arrested time and time again,” the victim’s advocate said.

Gaston’s criminal history includes aggravated assault, indecent exposure to a child, evading arrest, felony possession of a weapon, violating a protection order and more, all within the last 10 years. Gaston was repeatedly granted bond in Harris County’s 351st District Court under Judge Natalia Cornelio.

Trial attorney James Powell was that court’s former judge until he lost re-election in 2020.

“Some cases are apparent. If you have someone who, as I mentioned, clearly cannot perform well in society and keeps coming back with multiple cases, it’s time to shut the doors.” Powell said.

Powell said judges have to find the balance between public safety and a defendant’s rights.

“They’re in a very tough position,” said the trial attorney. “It’s somewhat of a lose-lose situation because regardless of what happens, somebody’s going to be unhappy. You don’t want to be in a position where someone loses their life. That’s no good for anybody.”

Kahan said the number of victims in Harris County will continue to grow until bond reform is taken up on a state level.

“This is why we desperately need legislation. It’s to give judges discretion, for whatever reason they’re perspective is they have to release defendants back on bond,” Kahan said.

He said he plans to be in Austin sharing Steele’s heartbreaking story when that happens during the legislature’s special session on July 8.

Houston officials are calling for bond reforms after a growing number of homicides and gun violence in our city
Houston officials are calling for bond reforms after a growing number of homicides and gun violence in our city

Anyone with information is asked to contact Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS.

Gaston remains on the run.

Steele’s loved ones set up a GoFundMe page for Steele’s funeral expenses and Zeus’ recovery. The GoFundMe page description read:

July 1, 2021, on baby Zeus’s 1st birthday a day that was supposed to be filled with joy and love ended up being a day of pain and heartache. July 1st now is not only Zeus’s birthday but is now the day baby Zeus lost his mother to domestic gun violence, and Zeus also shot in the leg but is stable and recovering. Layla resided in Houston,Tx but she is originally from New Orleans,La. The family would like to ask for help getting her shipped there to be put to rest. Baby Zeus will reside with his maternal grandmother and aunt. We are asking for funds to help get Layla’s body moved to New Orleans and to help Start Zeus’s new life. We greatly appreciate your help this would mean so much to the family and for Zeus!!!

Steele’s family said they know who the gunman is are looking for justice for Steele.

About the Authors:

Daniela Sternitzky-Di Napoli has been a digital news editor at KPRC 2 since 2018. She is a published poet and has background in creative writing and journalism. Daniela has covered events like Hurricane Harvey and the Astros World Series win. In her spare time, Daniela is an avid reader and loves to spend time with her two miniature dachshunds.