Shortly after 3, the police told Ralph they would take him home. But as they got off the Garden Grove freeway and headed for his house, it became clear they weren't taking the direct route. Instead, they wanted to eyeball the four suspects' homes. Exactly how the police got the names remains unclear. Rodriguez insists that although he had heard the four names at La Bonita, police provided him with them before he had volunteered them. Rodriguez theorizes that because he had encouraged survivors at the scene to cooperate, they may have given investigators the names.
A Restless Sleep
Over the next few minutes of relative silence and with the officers quietly taking notes, Rodriguez, sitting in the back of the unmarked police car, directed police to each of the suspects' houses. They first drove by Robert Figueroa's, allegedly on the passenger side of the truck. Then to Louie Valadez's, the alleged driver and friend of Rodriguez's. Then to the home of Roman Menchaca, one of the alleged shooters. Finally, two doors from his own house, it was the home of the 14-year-old, the other alleged shooter. "I was getting in deeper and deeper in quicksand," Ralph said. He finally made it home about 3:30 a.m.
Ralph tried to get some sleep, but about 6 a.m., he was awakened by knocking on the door. Half asleep, he greeted the same two officers. They apologized but explained that because this was a double homicide, they didn't want to waste time.
But this time, the investigators didn't want to talk to Ralph; this time, they were interested in his two eldest children; Linda, now 13, and Ralph Paul, 12. The children, the police had learned, might have additional information. Ralph and Isabel, although wanting to shield them, knew what they meant. The officers made it abundantly clear, Ralph says, that the children didn't have to talk to them. In fact, Ralph says, they were so nice about it that he would have felt guilty if the children hadn't cooperated. But not at all comfortable about dragging their children into the morass, Ralph and Isabel decided to let them decide.
Ralph was blunt with his son: "I said if we talk, they are going to find out we talked. Fifth Street will find out. His immediate answer was, 'Yeah, I want to talk.' "
Isabel was wary: "Even when he said yes, I said, 'Are you sure you want to?' I said, 'Once you're in, you're in, you can't get out.' It kind of scared me. I said, 'Look at what they're capable of doing.' I felt I was putting my son's life at risk, but I thought his judgment was good and if he wanted to do it, we were willing to back him. He didn't hesitate at all."
The children's information, primarily from Ralph Paul, was this: About an hour after the shooting, they told police, they had seen a pickup truck on the street while they were staying at their grandmother's house. It matched the description of the truck at the La Bonita shooting, supplied by his grandmother, who had telephoned and told them to be on the lookout for it.
Ralph Paul, police said, was able to identify Menchaca from past experiences on the block. He also told police that he heard Menchaca yell, "We got them!" Thus, within 18 hours of the shooting, the Rodriguez family was getting deeply involved in a murder they hadn't even witnessed.
By then, the information network that exists in Santa Ana's gang neighborhoods already was cranked up. If you doubt there could be such a network, consider that Santa Ana has an estimated 65 gangs with 7,000 members. With numbers like that, news travels fast.
"We heard rumors that people knew we were snitching," Isabel said. "We got calls on the phone. Friends were saying that we should have stayed out of it."
That jarred the Rodriguezes. "We thought if all these guys know, we better watch out, because they might come around and do something," Ralph said. "Now we were really beginning to feel that something went wrong."
But nothing happened for more than two weeks. Perhaps their fears were unfounded, Ralph thought. Meanwhile, relatives of the dead were getting increasingly impatient. The police had names, they said. Why weren't they acting?
"After the baby's funeral, people started getting a little hotter," Ralph said. "Everybody around here starting getting a little bitter that these guys were still free. A week went by and another week went by. People were saying, 'The police know who did it, how come no arrests are being made?' There was a growing sense that they were getting away with it."
At 6 a.m. on the morning of Oct. 4, Ralph went outside to warm up his truck. The block had been closed off by police cars. Phone calls came from a few blocks away--police were doing the same thing there. On that morning--18 days after the shootings--police arrested the four suspects identified by the La Bonita survivors: Robert Figueroa, Roman Menchaca, Louis Valadez and the 14-year-old.