Outraged over the weekend slaying of 17-year-old Jesse Strobel, friends and family members of the Ventura High School student demanded Monday that school and city officials do more to curb what they say is a growing gang problem.
Jesse's family said they believe that the stabbing may have been gang-related, but Ventura police say they don't know if gangs were involved.
"We have nothing to indicate that this was gang-related," said Lt. Don Arth, a spokesman for the Ventura Police Department.
Nevertheless, more than 100 Ventura parents and residents, along with weeping classmates of Jesse, packed the City Council chambers Monday evening to plead with council members to address the city's gang problem.
"My son was a good kid. He was not a member of a gang. He was doing what he was supposed to be doing--coming home," said Claudia Strobel, Jesse's mother.
"Please don't let his death be in vain."
Police Chief Richard Thomas told the council and crowd that the city's gang problem would continue until residents stopped tolerating it.
"It's not something new in the community. . . . Until all the citizens in this community say enough is enough, it will keep happening."
He said police have made no arrests.
Jesse, who was a defensive end on the varsity football team, was attacked late Friday night as he was walking home from his job at his father's pizzeria in Ventura's Pierpont area. He was found lying on the front porch of a house in the 300 block of North Catalina Street about 11 p.m., and he died two hours later at Ventura County Medical Center from a single stab wound to the chest, according to the county coroner's office.
John Strobel IV, Jesse's father, said Monday that his son told him two weeks ago that gang members at Ventura High School had severely beaten his best friend and had told Jesse, "We're going to get you."
But "no one thought that this meant, 'we're going to kill you,' " Strobel said. He stressed that although he believes that his son's death may have been gang-related, there is no way to know if it occurred as a direct result of this threat.
"I want to be careful about what I say," Strobel said. "I don't want to accuse anybody of what happened."
Arth said that school officials had contacted police about the beating of Jesse's friend but that the victim refused to cooperate in an investigation, so the matter was dropped.
"Since the homicide, we have gone back and interviewed the people that were involved," he said. "Right now we have nothing to indicate that the two incidents are related, but we haven't ruled it out."
Arth said police do not believe that Jesse's killing is linked to two stabbings that occurred early Friday morning on the city's west end.
Anthony Ortega, 18, was stabbed four times in the back in the 100 block of West Mission Avenue. Three hours later, police found Jose Olvera, 30, nearby, also suffering from stab wounds. Both were taken to Ventura County Medical Center where they remain in fair condition.
School Supt. Joseph Spirito said that three of the four boys involved in the fight at Ventura High School two weeks ago were identified and suspended for five days. He said two of those three, whose names were withheld because of their ages, were transferred to the district's continuation high school.
Shortly after the fight and the threat against his son, John Strobel said his truck was painted with two swastikas while parked in front of his Seaward Avenue pizzeria. But there is no way to know if any of the incidents are related, Strobel said.
Strobel, who has two other children attending elementary school in the district, said his main concern is that the community take more aggressive action against what he perceives is a worsening gang problem.
"I think the police are really making an effort, and I think the schools are trying," he said. "But I just don't think they know how bad the problem is."
On Monday, John Strobel III, Jesse's grandfather, and 10 family members met with Ventura High School officials to talk about the slaying and gang problems at the school.
"We're not here to be accusatory," the elder Strobel said. "We've come here to try and understand what's going on and to try and make beneficial changes."
The group demanded that the school hold an assembly for students to discuss the killing and any possible gang activities at the school.
Spirito assured the group that a forum would be held at the school later this week or early next week. He said school officials want to plan the forum around Jesse's funeral, which is scheduled for Thursday afternoon.
Spirito acknowledged that there are gangs on campus, but said that they represent only a handful of students. He also stressed that gang activities rarely occur on school grounds.
"We're not saying that there's not a gang problem," Spirito said. "But very seldom does anything happen on campus involving a gang. We find a lot of what's happening is outside the school."
Peter Weinberger, a friend of the Strobel family, said the community must take more aggressive action against gangs before they become more entrenched.
"This may be an incurable cancer in East L. A. or whatever, but it is not an incurable cancer in Ventura," he said. "This is a small town with people who" want to solve the problem before it worsens.
Staff writers Peggy Y. Lee and Ron Soble contributed to this report.