Salinas reels from five gang-related deaths in four days.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
The Salinas Police Department has pulled cops off their desk jobs to combat a grim streak of gang-related shootings that has left five dead in four days. At a press conference Tuesday, Jan. 13, Deputy Police Chief Cassie McSorley said the department has assigned several sergeants who normally work administrative jobs to patrol the streets. “We are trying to respond as best as we can with the resources that we have,” she said, adding that, “We can’t literally have an officer on every corner. We need the community’s help.”
Three homicides occurred Monday, starting with 15-year-old Alisal High School student Juan Jose Perez, who was shot about 9am while walking to school, police said. Later in the afternoon, 26-year-old James Lopez was driving on John Street when someone in a light green mini van pulled alongside Lopez, exchanged words and opened fire on Lopez and his passenger. Lopez died at Natividad Medical Center.
In Monday’s final homicide, 17-year-old Jose Guevarra, also an Alisal High student, was a passenger in a car parked on Cortez Street when two suspects walked up and fired several shots, killing Guevarra and leaving the driver in serious condition at a Bay area hospital.
Two Salinas men, Luis Fernando Rodriguez Garcia, 34, and Frankie Espinoza, 20, also died from gunshot wounds Sunday in shootings that took place Friday and Saturday.
All of the victims were gang members or associates, police said. Sgt. Don Cline said the shootings have targeted both Norteño and Sureño gang members. Witnesses have come forward in the five homicides but Cline said he needs more information from the community to solve the crimes. The department’s anonymous tip line is 775-4222.
But police emphasized that increased suppression alone won’t halt the killings. Cops then turned the attention to long-term violence prevention and intervention programs like Rancho Cielo. Retired Judge John Phillips, Rancho Cielo president, said gang members can straighten out their lives with some positive attention and job training. “We can turn these young people around,” Phillips said. “They have so much potential.”
Deborah Aguilar, founder of violence victim support group A Time for Grieving, is coordinating a fairly new program to bring neighbors together. Community Building Circles, which hit the streets in September, allows residents to share their anger and frustration about gang violence, Aguilar said.
“We are building a sense of communal trust,” she said. “We are laying the groundwork, the foundation for a peaceful city.”
Aguilar, along with Teeto Ayala, a former gang member, go to shooting scenes to console victims and help police gather information. Since Ayala has been through the gang lifestyle he says he can relate to youth more than cops can.
While the violent start to the year is frustrating, Ayala is hopeful. “We got to keep pushing forward for the better,” he says. “It’s going to be up to us if we want to get that change.”