A gallery of graffiti proclaims the presence of the Lopers gang in an alley behind a row of apartment buildings in the 900 block of South Standard Avenue in Santa Ana.
A block away, on East Wisteria Place, the stylized letters of the F-Troop gang stain the pavement and are carved into several trees. Scrawled on a street light are these names: Insane, Rambo, Truchas (Trouts), Cyco, Feo (Ugly), Puppet and Shorty.
In between these two salones de bellas artes runs Standard Avenue, a busy, nondescript thoroughfare claimed by no one in particular.
It was while walking home along this street about 7:30 p.m. Sunday that 19-year-old Steven Iturbide--the Shorty on the street light--was shot in the head. He died early Monday morning at Western Medical Center in Santa Ana. Police are investigating the shooting but will not say much more than that it was related to gangs.
A friend of Iturbide's who was with him when he was shot said he may have been killed in vengeance for an argument Iturbide had at a party on Standard Avenue the night before. The friend, 18-year-old Ramiro Villegas, said that "before they shot Shorty, they said, 'Remember Saturday.' "
Villegas said that he, Iturbide and three others were returning from a trip to a nearby convenience store about 7:30 p.m. when four Lopers confronted them. One was armed with a knife, another with a gun.
Villegas said that he and his friends are members of the F-Troop gang.
"I was running for home, but I turned around and saw them hit Shorty," Villegas said.
The gang slaying follows by about six weeks a spate of gang shootings that left three dead and at least three more wounded. Loper gang members, or their friends and family, were the victims in most of those shootings. Police responded by temporarily stepping up patrols in neighborhoods where gangs are active, but deployment is now back to normal, and no changes are planned because of the latest incident, police spokeswoman Maureen Thomas said.
Iturbide's death brings the total of gang-related killings this year to eight, three more than in 1986.
On East Wisteria Place on Monday, Iturbide's parents and five brothers and sisters gathered in the living room, dominated by a neatly trimmed Christmas tree, and talked about the victim.
Iturbide was born in the south-central Mexican state of Morelos on Dec. 26, 1967. He came to this country when he was 4, and he began to have problems in school when he was about 14, said his stepmother, Andrea Iturbide. He dropped out of Santa Ana High School about three years ago after the ninth grade, she said.
"He wasn't a fighter," his stepmother said in Spanish. "He liked to play around, he was a joker."
Miguel Iturbide, 13, said his brother "wasn't a gang member, but he used to hang around with them. . . . They'd hang around in front of the house. Sometimes my dad would tell them to go away or he'd call the police because they were playing music so loud."
Jorge Iturbide, 18, said Steven had held varied jobs since he had dropped out of school but had no real plans for the future.
"He was going to give up being a cholo when he turned 21," said Miguel, using the slang for a street tough.
Steven's stepmother spoke up quickly: "No, he wasn't a cholo, what do you mean?"
"You know, the way he dressed," Miguel said.
Jorge said his brother had never been in trouble with the police before, but he was stabbed in the stomach in a fight that was not related to gangs about two years ago.
His right wrist bore tattoos of a spider and a cross, said Jorge, who works with a friend building fences.
"I was in that stuff too, but I got out."