FRESNO — Two men toting semiautomatic weapons walked into a nightclub and restaurant on the outskirts of this city early Sunday morning and opened fire, killing seven people and wounding two more.
It was the bloodiest crime in Fresno history.
Police said the two gunmen, who were still at large, had been denied entrance Friday and Saturday night and returned a few minutes after the 2 a.m. closing. "We think it's retaliation for being denied entrance to the bar," said Fresno Police Officer Rick Ventura.
"It was deliberate," said Sgt. Daryl Green, chief of homicide. "Somebody went in there with the intent to shoot a lot of people."
A witness who lives behind the nightclub counted 20 shots and said the dead included the nightclub owner, Reyes (Ray) Carrillo; his elderly mother; a half-brother; a cook and his wife, and a bouncer. The relationship of the seventh victim to the others was not known. The dead were identified by police as Reyes Carrillo, Rachel Carrillo, Alfredo Carrillo, Mary Ruiz, Alicia and Marciano Perez, and Rudy Sanchez.
"I heard the shots and then Ray's wife came banging on my door with bullets in her legs," said Bertha Rudino, a friend of Carrillo who leased him the building. "She said: 'We've been shot. We've been shot.'
"I thought it was another drive-by shooting. A few bullets in the wall," she said. "Then I walked inside. There were bodies scattered all over the place. Ray was face down in the kitchen. His mother was near the bar. There was someone in the poolroom. It seemed like they had all been shot in the head."
Neighbors and patrons said the nightclub and restaurant, located at the edge of Fresno where city life gives way to vineyards and orchards, has been the scene of numerous shootings, stabbings and rapes along with heavy drug and prostitution traffic.
"Everything you can imagine, I've seen it here," said Mike Torosian, who lives across the street. "Every night gunshots in the air. The (people) who frequent the place literally had a war on this street a few years ago with the (Laotian) Hmong. It was amazing no one got killed.
"Finally it went down. It was only a matter of time."
For the past decade, neighbors said, they have been asking authorities to shut down the nightclub, which sits in a kind of political no man's land on the city-county border.
Ventura said the land was annexed to the city of Fresno four or five years ago, but the other three corners of the intersection remain in county territory. Beyond a few arrests for drugs and prostitution, neighbors said, meetings with police, sheriff's deputies, state alcohol agents and county elected officials have not solved a thing.
"It's probably the worst bar environment you've ever seen," said Tim Dovali, a contractor who lives across the street in a ranch house surrounded by a six-foot fence. "I've had bullets lodged in my barn and fence. I've seen every sex act you can imagine, some in my front yard.
"You call the Fresno police and they send you to the (Fresno County) sheriff's. You call the sheriff's and they send you back to the police. The excuse is always the same: 'We're waiting for something serious to happen,' " Dovali said.
Employees and patrons speculated that the slayings were connected to drugs or a debt. Carrillo took over the nightclub in the early 1980s and worked hard to make it a success, according to friends and patrons. But others said he flaunted a lifestyle that made them wonder about his source of income.
Ignacio Salcedo, a drummer whose Mexican ranchera band played at Carrillo's, said: "Ray ran prostitutes and other things."
"Mexicans are just not killers who kill for no reason," Salcedo's wife, Raquel, interjected. "We kill for vengeance and/or you owe us money. It's because of the pride."
Carrillo would not hesitate to throw out troublemakers, they said. As the bar grew more violent, he hired a security guard at the front door who patted down each customer for weapons. Those carrying guns--and there were many--were told to take them back to their cars.
"It was a hit, no doubt in my mind," Torosian said. "I saw a lot of drugs and prostitution, but it's hard to say if Ray was involved. He tried his best to keep the riffraff out. If you bent the rules, he'd thump you in the head and tell you to get the hell out."
Officer Ventura said he was aware of arrests and calls to police about the bar in the past, but did not know whether they involved anything beyond the routine.
Rudino, whose family owns the nightclub land, said she and Carrillo discussed the drug rumors only a few weeks ago.
"He said every time a Mexican bar owner makes some money, everyone accuses him of selling drugs," she said. "He tried to keep it clean. I used to tell him to be careful. I knew this could happen but I never wanted to believe it."
Carrillo's Club is one of the many cantinas that dot the rural landscape of Fresno, attracting a mix of migrant farm workers, lowriders and gangbangers. Police and sheriff's deputies say the nightclub owners are often directing the illegal rackets, and undercover busts from time to time seem to bear this out.
Fresno now ranks as the second most violent city in the state on a per capita basis, behind Oakland. Six weeks ago, four members of one African-American family were found dead in their westside home. Until the Carrillo's Club killings, it was the bloodiest crime here.
The suspects in Sunday's shooting are described by police as two Latino males in their late 20s or early 30s. One is stocky, about 5 feet, 1 inch with a "Fu Manchu mustache." The other is about 5 feet, 6 inches with braided dark hair. They left the scene in a 1964 white Chevy Impala with spots of gray primer.