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Police Seek Answers to Rise in Gang Shootings

Crime: Oxnard officers increase patrols in hot spots, and leaders call for community meetings to address problem after five incidents. One victim is buried Saturday.


OXNARD — Five gang-related shootings in less than a week brought a citywide police crackdown this weekend, but even as officers spread out across the city there was a sixth attack.

The surge of violence prompted one local leader to call for a gang summit and Mayor Manuel Lopez to call for community meetings to discuss the problem.

Meanwhile, a funeral was held Saturday for Felipe Ramirez, 17, who was fatally shot Tuesday in what was believed to be a gang-related attack.

Throughout the weekend, police increased their visibility around the city.

About two dozen extra officers patrolled the streets Friday and Saturday nights, even setting up a staging area near the intersection of Channel Islands Boulevard and Saviers Road to help dispatch officers more quickly.

Early Saturday, police responded to a shooting in the 900 block of Bismark Way. Richard Villareal, 25, was standing outside an apartment complex about 12:45 a.m. when a man walked up and asked him where he was from before firing several rounds, police said.

One bullet grazed Villareal's right arm. He was taken to Ventura County Medical Center, where he was treated and released, authorities said. No arrests were made.

On Saturday night, Police Chief Art Lopez joined officers on patrol in south Oxnard.

Mayor Lopez, calling for a meeting of community leaders to discuss gang violence, said: "The police reaction is a normal reaction, and they are trying to stem the tide, but it is a challenge that we all must face. One person or one agency is not going to stop the problem."

Wes Busch, coordinator for a local youth mentoring program, suggested holding a meeting among various warring groups.

"This would be a good time to have a summit," said Busch, who works for the nonprofit group, City Impact. "There is a lot of old generational wounds" among local gangs.

Police Cmdr. Tom Chronister said police officials have talked about the possibility of holding town hall meetings and even a gang summit. But he conceded that there are concerns over how successful a summit would be.

"The idea of a gang truce has been brought up," Chronister said. "But the nature of gangs in Oxnard is not like that in Los Angeles and other big cities where you have a hierarchy. There is really no identified structure here."

Police are at a loss to explain the recent upturn in violence.

"We are baffled," said Sgt. Terry Burr, a detective with Oxnard's Violent Crimes Task Force, a 13-member multi-agency team created last year to concentrate on the city's gang problems. "We have some rivalries going on; we just don't know what triggered it."

Authorities believe that some of the violence stems from the Sept. 1 shooting death of 19-year-old Dino Zarate.

Zarate, a former La Colonia gang member who recently enrolled at St. Mary's College near Berkeley, was shot twice in the head as he drove through rival gang territory in the city's south end.

Charged with Zarate's murder was 18-year-old Anthony Frank Vasquez, who police allege is a gang member and rival to Zarate. Vasquez has pleaded not guilty to the slaying and is awaiting trial.

In the days following the shooting, Zarate's fellow gang members began tagging their initials throughout south Oxnard--a virtual declaration of war in gang lingo, authorities said.

That round of tagging was followed with scrawlings on walls and street signs all over La Colonia from Vasquez's gang.

"We had a dormant summer until that shooting," Burr said. "Then the tagging started going up, and that's enough to trigger it."


But police said they do not believe all of the recent shootings are related to the Zarate slaying. Several other gangs, including the city's newer and smaller gangs, also have been involved.

"We have some ideas about it all," Burr said, "but nothing concrete yet."

Some believe that an ongoing battle among gangs in La Colonia and the unincorporated El Rio area is another possible explanation for the recent violence. Others say there could be a number of reasons for the shootings.

"Its really hard to say, but it could possibly be that we've got some younger people trying to get noticed by a gang," said Sgt. Bob Camarillo, who heads the Oxnard department's storefront police bureau in La Colonia. "Some of this may be related to some retaliation for a gang member coming up on another."

The shootings of Zarate and Ramirez were the first gang-related homicides this year in the city, authorities said. Last year, there were six homicides, but only one of those was considered gang-related, officials said.

While not considered an active member, Felipe hung around with a small and relatively minor gang near his home, detectives said.

As police patrolled the area around Garcia Mortuary on Friday night, about 200 friends and family members gathered to mourn Ramirez. Some who knew him best talked fondly about the aspiring deejay, who also worked as a youth counselor at Pacific View Community Day School.

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