Fear of gang violence drove two Santa Paula families into hiding Tuesday after the father of an alleged gang member was gunned down in his driveway, police officials said.
Relatives of suspected gunman Delfino Enricos Lopez, 43, spent the day removing their belongings from the home in the 100 block of Sheppard Road as two armed Santa Paula police officers watched the exodus from a sidewalk.
Boxes were packed and pickups loaded just a few feet away from the bloodstained spot where Lopez is accused of shooting his next-door neighbor, Samuel Ruiz, to death during an argument over an earlier alleged gang fight involving their sons.
The shooting of Ruiz, 40, also forced the Ruiz family to flee out of fear, police said. Ruiz's wife and children left Monday night immediately after the killing, Santa Paula Police Chief Walt Adair said.
Five members of the Ruiz family watched Monday as their father was gunned down at close range in the driveway that separates the two homes, Adair said.
"The children have fears of retaliation," he said.
Detective Mike Saviers said both families feared that the shooting would touch off violent reprisals from members of two rival Santa Paula gangs, the Party Boyz and the Crimies.
"There's obviously bad blood between the two groups," Saviers said. "But this is a little more serious than a gang fight."
Lopez is scheduled to be arraigned today in connection with the fatal shooting of his next-door neighbor.
While gang violence in Santa Paula has been of increasing concern to law enforcement officials, Saviers said the shooting Monday was the first fatality that could be related in any way to Santa Paula gangs. It was also the first homicide of the year in the city and the eighth countywide.
The Party Boyz and the Crimies are two of Santa Paula's three oldest gangs, with a history of crime that dates back to the early 1980s, Adair said. The city's other gang is called the Crazy Boyz.
Neither of the two men involved in Monday's shooting were members of the youth gangs, but their 20-year-old sons have a history of association with the two rival gangs, Saviers said. The detective said Lopez's son was believed to be a member of the Party Boyz, and Ruiz's son was a member of the Crimies.
Saviers said the two fathers, Delfino Lopez and Samuel Ruiz, were quarreling Monday over a gang-related fight that erupted in the early morning of May 20 in the same block and allegedly involved their sons. The same day, one wall of the Ruiz home was vandalized with blue spray-paint with the words "Once a rat, always a rat."
Both Ruiz and Lopez were armed when the shooting occurred Monday, police were told. But Saviers said Tuesday that a search of both residences has led to the recovery of only one gun, a small-caliber pistol whose bullets did not match the bullets recovered from Ruiz's body. Investigators are still looking for the weapon used in the shooting, he said.
"We believe there were two guns. How it started, who started it, we don't know," Adair said Tuesday.
Ruiz was shot in the chest, abdomen and right arm in the attack with a .380-caliber semiautomatic handgun, Ventura County Coroner F. Warren Lovell said. Ruiz later died of the chest wound at Santa Paula Memorial Hospital, Lovell said.
As members of the Lopez family packed to leave their home Tuesday, they staunchly denied any gang association and said Lopez shot in self-defense. One woman who refused to be identified denied that any members of her family were members of the Party Boyz gang.
"There's no gang activity here," she said.
Santa Paula police officers were placed on alert for further gang activity in the area of Sheppard Road where the shooting took place, Cmdr. Bob Gonzalez said.
"We are being watchful," Gonzalez said. "Any time you have a shooting incident . . . my fear is that someone innocent will be injured."