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9 Suspected in New Year's Eve Slaying Caught in Police Sweep

Crime: Nearly 200 officers from 18 departments take part in raid of 21 homes targeting possible members of North County gang.

January 07, 1999|JASON KANDEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In an unprecedented show of force, nearly 200 police officers raided 21 homes across north Orange County Wednesday and arrested nine suspected gang members in connection with the New Year's Eve slaying of a 20-year-old Anaheim woman.

Officials said the heavy presence from 18 separate departments was called because investigators believed the suspects were heavily armed and might resist arrest.

The raids targeted the Atwood gang, which Placentia police suspect in several recent North County shootings.

"This is one of the biggest mutual aid homicide investigations in North County" history, said Placentia police spokesman Matt Reynolds. "We believe these people are armed and dangerous. We needed to make sure we had sufficient officers at each place so we could ensure the officers' safety."

The arrests come a week after Judah Seelke was found shot in the head on Vincente Avenue just before 11 p.m. on Dec. 31. The shooting occurred after an apparent argument involving others at a party she was attending, police said.

Seelke's friend, Veronica Manza, 25, also of Anaheim, was wounded in an arm. She was treated at the scene and released.

Police said the two victims were inside Manza's Honda Civic when several shots were fired at them from a group of New Year's Eve revelers standing in the frontyard.

Based on witness statements, police tracked the suspects to 17 dwellings in Placentia, three in Anaheim and one in Orange. Officials said they obtained search warrants earlier this week.

Police arrested Ronnie Cruz, 18, Jose DeAnda, 19, and three juveniles on suspicion of murder.

Juan Figueroa, 20, and another juvenile were booked on suspicion of being accessories after the fact. Gilbert Flores, 20, and Bernice Tovar, 20, were arrested on marijuana charges.

Three other adults were arrested Friday in connection with the murder. During the Wednesday raid, police seized 18 loaded guns and rifles as well as other evidence, they said.

The guns will be compared with bullets recovered from the crime scene and the victim's body, Reynolds said.

Investigators also seized a bedroom door with gang writing on it, photographs with gang members displaying their signs and a small amount of marijuana.

Although he said he does not know whether the arrests will cripple the Atwood gang, Reynolds believes that the raid sends a message to gang members.

"The city's not going to tolerate this kind of activity," he said. "We've arrested a significant [number] of gang members from the area."

News of the arrests Wednesday were little relief to Seelke's 19-year-old sister, Rachel.

"She took care of me," she said in a telephone interview. "She was always with me. She had so many plans."

Judah Seelke was studying to become a dental assistant at a trade school in Fullerton, the sister said.

"It was just the beginning of her life," she said. "To have somebody there your whole life, and then to have something taken away. . . . No words can express how I feel."

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North County Dragnet

Police officers from 18 departments made nine arrests in eight locations, netting alleged gang members suspected in a New Year's Eve slaying. Law enforcement officials say the nearly 200 officers were used because they believed the subjects might be armed and dangerous. Where the arrests were made:

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