City reacts with sorrow, alarm at child’s shooting and teen’s death

By Brian Clark, Modesto Bee

last updated: April 27, 2008 04:56:07 AM

News of two shootings in west Modesto that left a 14-year-old dead and a 22-month old in critical condition hit Dave Lopez hard.

The Modesto councilman grew up on the west side of town, where the shootings took place, and Saturday celebrated his daughter Lourdes turning 4 weeks old.

“My first reaction was heartbreak,” Lopez said. “I feel responsible that it’s happening in Modesto.”

Shock, outrage and sadness were among the emotions felt by city leaders, law enforcement and people in the community over the latest round of what police say appear to be gang-related shootings.

On Friday at 7:30 p.m., Josue Becerra was hit by stray gunfire as he played in front of his home in the 200 block of H Street. He was struck in the abdomen and was listed in critical condition late Friday night. Relatives said Saturday his condition was improving after surgery.

About 2½ hours later and two miles away, two teenagers were chased down by rival gang members. Both were shot, and the 14-year-old died on Rock Pine Court, about two blocks west of the Carpenter and Robertson roads intersection.

These came less than two weeks after a father of four visiting from Long Beach for the Cambodian new year died after being hit by a stray bullet during what police believe was a gang-related fight in west Modesto.

It’s part of what’s fast becoming a violent year. There have been more than 50 gang-related shootings in Modesto and the unincorporated areas of Stanislaus County, according to the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department and the Central Valley Gang Impact Task Force.

“We are very alarmed at the level of violence we’ve seen,” Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden said Saturday. “We’re going to have a very strong enforcement response, and we’ll be looking to the community to assist us.”

Entire community needed

Councilman Will O’Bryant said he was shaken by the photo on the front page of Saturday’s Bee of Jorge Becerra cradling Josue moments after the shooting.

“I can’t put into words how sad I am that this has happened,” O’Bryant said. “I know the Police Department is working hard. But these are problems we’re going to have to solve. It’s going to take the entire community, all of the resources we have and everyone to solve these serious problems.”

O’Bryant, head of the council’s Safety and Communities Committee, said he intends to talk to Mayor Jim Ridenour about the issue Monday.

“If you can’t go in the front yard with your baby,” he said, “how bad is that?”

Contending with gang-related violence is no doubt a complex issue, he admitted, but it’s one the city and county have to “wage war on.” He called it a “social issue, family issue and educational issue.”

Ridenour said taking a more aggressive stance is mandatory, although he acknowledged the difficulty when the pervasive violence keeps potential witnesses from talking.

Yet, he said, “people can’t live in terror all their lives.”

Alicia Miller knows something about ridding crime from a troubled area of town.

She’s the founding member of ACTION, or Advisory Council To Improve Our Neighborhood. The group was formed to improve living conditions in Prescott Estates, the once troubled northwest Modesto condominium complex.

She said she was “disgusted with the pain that I saw in that father’s face holding his child (in the photo).”

“I’m outraged,” she said. “How dare these gang members do this.”

Ready to develop a response

Miller, 71, of Empire said she’s been away from her role as community activist, but the toddler’s shooting inspired her to want to help the west Modesto residents.

“The neighborhood has the right not to live in fear.”

Miller said she hopes to meet with residents and community leaders in west Modesto to develop a response to the violence.

She said it took a collaborative effort with Modesto and police officials, but the condominium complex has changed for the better.

Miller also was a board member of the Prescott Estates Homeowners Association, which held demonstrations against drug and gang activity. During the demonstrations, residents would clean up alleys and streets before conducting peaceful marches through the estates.

“You have to be aggressive to get those gangs out,” Miller said. “I’m not scared of any of them.”

Wasden said Modesto police would welcome any type of town hall meeting to discuss the recent violence.

The department will seek continued support from schools and religious organizations that have anti-gang programs to keep children away from the crime that comes with the gang lifestyle, he said.

Lopez said he spoke Saturday to a fellow councilmember about the previous night’s violence.

“There are people that feel unsafe in Modesto,” he said. “We can’t let that happen.”

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