Before the second stabbing, the one that occurred on the Saturday before Christmas, residents in the Oldtown Salinas neighborhood near the YMCA say they were already living in fear. Because before the second stabbing came the first, a horrific incident in which 26-year-old Mariana Jurado, two months pregnant with her first child, was attacked by a knife-wielding stranger after she left her apartment on Clay Street the morning of Dec. 12 to go to work.
She lived long enough to describe her attacker to police.
Then came the second incident, on Dec. 21, in which a man was stabbed near the heart while near the offices of the accounting firm Bianchi, Kasavan & Pope. Pictures that ran in the Salinas paper show personal belongings scattered around the scene and blood spattered on the ground as emergency workers tended to the victim, an apparently homeless man whose attacker may have been another homeless man.
That was also the case in Mariana Jurado’s killing: Garrett Scheff, an apparently homeless man with a history of mental illness and drug – and theft-related crimes, yet lacking any history of violence in local court records, was arrested in her killing. As for the second stabbing, 27-year-old Mark Sandoval was arrested later that day and booked on charges of attempted murder, as well as possession of a stolen firearm.
After the first incident, after the shock began to dissipate, neighbors started talking. And after the second incident, neighbors reached out – to each other, to electeds and to the press. One of the results of that outreach was an unusual meeting that took place at Salinas City Hall on Dec. 27, spearheaded by District 3 Councilmember Steve McShane and attended by about 60 people.
Rhonda Janicki, a Salinas resident, described the meeting as respectful, but pointed. She described a frightening incident that took place at her daughter’s home, near where Jurado was killed. Her daughter was in her yard when her dog began barking wildly at the back fence, an area not readily accessible to the public. When she climbed on a chair to peer over, a man was there, with his belongings spread out; when she asked him to gather his things and leave, he became combative and said he wouldn’t go until after he’d used drugs.
Like Jurado, Janicki’s daughter is pregnant, and the mother of a 2-year-old. She’s become nervous enough about her neighborhood that she considers not walking her son to Clay Street Park.
If there was commonality to the stories people told at the meeting, it was fear. Residents are afraid of being attacked. They are afraid their kids will come in contact with drug needles left behind at the park. They’re afraid of being robbed. They’re afraid of the homeless who avail themselves of the meals and social services provided at First United Methodist Church, then congregate on the library lawn, or on the stairs of a nearby parking garage or at Clay Street Park.
“People have been afraid to speak out,” Janicki says. “The pastor said as soon as the [city and county] build the shelter, he will move where he feeds the homeless. But that could be a year or more.”
Steve Lundin, the pastor at First United Methodist, takes great pains to try to keep the area around his church clean and services to the homeless in control. I’ve seen him on his hands and knees, cleaning trash from the bushes around city-owned property. I’ve also donated to his cause, which to my mind is the entire point of Christianity – helping those who aren’t in a position to help themselves. I live in the neighborhood and while I don’t feel the same fear as some residents (Chicago-born and raised, y’know), I understand it.
McShane plans to hold a second meeting, at 6pm on Friday, Jan. 10 at the YMCA on Clay Street. He says it’s going to take a group effort to stem the violence and the fear, and it starts with listening.
“In the short term, there needs to be trust built, between residents and stakeholders and the church, and public safety needs to be addressed,” he says. “Solutions are best when they’re organic and sustainable and set in motion with a gentle push. The city is not the solution, but we can help find a solution.”
To that end, he asks me to publish his cell phone number and tell anyone with ideas to give him a call at 970-4141.