Thirteen years ago, Robert Rendon's brother was murdered in a gang shooting on Rosita Place in Garden Grove.
Last week, around the corner on La Bonita Street, Rendon's 26-year-old son lost a leg in another drive-by shooting.
"We're strong people, but this takes a lot out of you," said Rendon, 54, a carpenter who grew up and raised eight sons in the neighborhood, which straddles Westminster Avenue--also called 17th Street--and includes a few blocks of both Santa Ana and Garden Grove.
As a child, Rendon ran barefoot through orange groves. Then the trees were replaced by small stucco and wooden houses, and the 17th Street gang started claiming the streets. In the last decade, Rendon has seen those homes defaced by the gang's graffiti and laced with bullets.
Last weekend, Rendon's neighborhood erupted in violence: two killed, including a 4-year-old and a teen-ager, and six wounded, Rendon's son among them. While authorities are calling the shooting one of the worst outbreaks of Latino gang violence in county history, it is also only the latest incident in a decades-old cycle of intermittent turf warfare that barrio residents and police alike have been unable to stop.
"We want to see peace," Rendon said. "I wish we could do something about it. But that's like me hitting the lottery."
Anthony Balandran, Rendon's half-brother, was 24 when he stopped by a friend's house on Rosita Place for a beer. That was 1976, and the term "drive-by shooting" hadn't entered the American lexicon.
The triggerman later confessed he "had a score to settle and that he wanted to shoot down some people at 17th Street," court documents show. The intended target wasn't there and lived to testify, but Tony Balandran died.
"He wasn't a gang member, and neither was my son," Robert Rendon said.
A week ago Saturday, Richard Rendon, 26, had stopped by a La Bonita Street home to pick up some friends and head out to a drive-in movie--"Lethal Weapon II."
"I told him, if you go, watch out, because sometimes Friday they come shoot there, sometimes Saturday they come shoot there," said his mother, Petra Rendon, 53. "He even told me, 'Don't worry Mom, I'll be all right.' "
When the gang arrived at dusk bearing assault rifles, 4-year-old Frank Fernandez Jr. and 17-year-old gang member Miguel (Smokey) Navarro III were killed, and Richard Rendon and five others were wounded.
Although 13 years separated the attacks, they are both believed to have been carried out by members of the rival 5th Street gang.
Less than a mile to the south, on the turf that 5th Street claims, Virgil Coursey watches television at night with a newspaper on his knees. But the news hardly occupies his attention. He merely uses the paper to cover the .357 Magnum he keeps nestled on his lap.
When the 17th Street gang comes "mad doggin' "--looking for trouble--on 5th Street, it matters little that Orange County suffers only about a dozen gang homicides a year, contrasted with 452 last year in Los Angeles County. Coursey and his wife dive for cover.
Traditionally, most Orange County gang killings take place in the barrios of Santa Ana, a city of 230,000. Almost half of its residents are Latino, many of them second- and third-generation Mexican-Americans.
Gangs have warred in Santa Ana and other cities in Orange County with deeply rooted Chicano populations--such as La Habra and Fullerton--for decades. As the gangs have become better armed in recent years, residents say, their violence has intensified.
Former members of both gangs interviewed last week said the 17th Street gang has existed in various forms for at least 30 years. The 5th Street Rulers surfaced about 20 years ago. One 5th Street gang member, who declined to be named, said the feud between the two gangs began about 15 years ago, when a 17th Street member was repeatedly stabbed in a brawl at a party on 5th Street.
But it was the 1976 drive-by shooting in which Tony Balandran was killed that cemented the enmity between the two gangs, he said, beginning a cycle of hits and pay-backs that broke out again last week.
Bad Blood Before
"There was bad blood before, but after that it really got bad," the gang member said.
"Everything started after what happened at my brother's," agreed Gloria Zamora, 49, sister of Joe Zamora, whose home was the site of the 1976 attack. "After that, he moved out. He said he didn't want his kids growing up here."
But Joe's sister, Anita Zamora Fernandez, married and stayed in the house on La Bonita Street where she was born. It was outside her home that her 4-year-old grandson, Frank Fernandez Jr., and Smokey Navarro were killed.
Despite the history of gang violence, the slaying of a 4-year-old boy came as a shock.
"Gang members deserve everything they get," said the wife of a former gang member. "But when it comes to innocent little kids who get shot for no reason, that's different."