Salinas’ death toll ties all-time homicide record -- a community grieves.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Alma Torres points to where a stray bullet hit a dumpster outside her family’s east Salinas apartment on Nov. 11. The 17-year-old Alisal High School student says it was just before bedtime, about 10pm, when she heard five gunshots. “I thought they were fireworks at first,” Torres says between bites of a McDonalds sundae.
Torres stands in a narrow driveway at 1122 East Laurel Drive and says this is where medical staff laid the lifeless body of 21-year-old Fernando Santos. Santos was sitting in the passenger seat of a car when, police say, at least one gunman walked up and shot him multiple times. The gang-style killing brought the city’s death toll to 24 this year, tying the city’s 1994 homicide record.
“It was kind of scary,” Torres says, although she is quick to add that her family is still comfortable living in the apartment complex.
Police are looking for two Latino male suspects who fled in a gray Oldsmobile or Buick Riviera with a worn paint job and striped seat covers. As usual, cops are beefing up patrol but say they need the community’s help to solve crimes and prevent further violence.
But while police search for the killers, residents of this neighborhood– primarily farmworker families living in shabby apartments– seem unshaken by the recent homicide.
Inside KK Market, a neighborhood store located just down the street from where Santos was shot to death, co-owner Chulhe Kim rings up tall cans of Budweiser and Mexico phone cards. Her regulars call her “China” (she’s Korean). She plays along with the racial misnomer as she has for the past 24 years, and even gave herself the name Gloria because it’s easier to pronounce.
Kim knows most of her customers by name and adores their candy-craving children. “These people are the sweetest little kids you’ve ever seen,” she says, adding that she watches over them like a protective grandmother.
Kim acknowledges that Sureño and Norteño gangs are a problem in the city, but doesn’t believe there are any gangsters living near her store. She says the shooting could have happened anywhere.
“This place is safer than my place where I live because we don’t know each other that well,” she says.
Gomez wants churches to open their doors for after-school programs like he has done at the United Methodist Church, just a few blocks from where the 24th killing happened.
“I’m always shocked by my pastor friends because we seem to be more interested in filling our pews than we are in emptying our jails,” he says.
Francisco Casas is one of three neighborhood block captains in the crowd. He says Salinas needs more community policing and better relationships between residents and police.
“There is no one person, there is no one agency that has the solution to the problem; therefore, we need to work together,” Casas says. “We need to somehow capture this motivation to change.”
Jessica Lopez, who lives down the street from where the homicide took place, says she became frightened when she heard bullets fly.
“My sister got shot on the Fourth of July,” she says. “I thought it could have been her but thank God it wasn’t.”
She starts to walk home, carrying a bag of Cheetos: “I don’t think Salinas is a safe place to be anymore.”