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2 Men Killed at Birthday Celebration

Five other people are wounded as gunmen open fire in an Oxnard backyard. Police suspect shooting is gang-related.

September 08, 2003|Holly J. Wolcott | Times Staff Writer

Two men were killed and five other people wounded early Sunday by gunmen who calmly walked into a backyard birthday party in Oxnard and began shooting, sending frantic guests diving for cover.

About 12:45 a.m., at least two men stepped through a side gate of a house in the 2100 block of Walden Street and began firing at the crowd. The gunmen ran from the yard and remained at large Sunday night, Oxnard Police Cmdr. Brian MacDonald said.

Augustine David Medina, 20, of Oxnard died at the scene. Gilberto Gutierrez Hernandez, 19, of Somis was rushed to St. John's Regional Medical Center in Oxnard, where he was pronounced dead shortly after 2 a.m. Both had been shot in the chest, said Mitch Breese, a senior deputy coroner's investigator.

Four men and a woman, who were among about 30 party guests, also suffered gunshot wounds. They were taken to area hospitals with minor to moderate injuries, MacDonald said.

Three stray bullets pierced the walls of a neighbor's living room and garage. "People were screaming hysterically and crying," said the neighbor, still visibly shaken hours after the gunfire.

"My granddaughter was in the kitchen and had just gotten home from a date," said the woman, who asked not to be identified. "If she had been five minutes later, I can't imagine."

More than two dozen Oxnard police officers responded to the scene.

"It was utter chaos," said MacDonald, adding that the incident appeared to be unprovoked but gang-related. He said the shooters were not confronted by any of the guests before they opened fire.

The killings did not appear to be linked to other recent incidents of gang violence in the city or in Ventura County, MacDonald said. "It's kind of a mystery, because even though it appears to be a deliberate act, there doesn't seem to be a precursor that would have caused it. It was very brazen."

Detectives were investigating whether the victims had gang ties, authorities said.

The deaths mark the 15th and 16th homicides in Oxnard this year, compared with a dozen for all of last year.

City officials said they plan to meet with Police Chief Art Lopez this week to find out what can be done to prevent other incidents.

"This is just horrible," Councilman John Zaragoza said. "This is basically a cancer we have with these gang members. We have to do more to stop the violence."

Mayor Manuel Lopez said that the Police Department was recently given tens of thousands of dollars in additional funding for more gang and homicide detectives. But he acknowledged that police can only do so much.

"I'm very, very upset, very sad," Lopez said in a telephone interview from Sacramento. "I think there are a lot of long-term things we are trying to do to solve a very bad situation, but it's so hard to predict who is going to do this sort of thing."

Authorities described the party as low-key. They said it did not appear that the residents of the home, a 26-year-old man, his wife, young children and brother, 25, were involved in the incident. The family declined to comment.

The party started Saturday night as a 22nd birthday celebration for a female co-worker of one of the residents. About 10 p.m., officers arrived at the house after receiving a complaint about loud music.

"We got a noise complaint, went there and the people were cooperative," said Cmdr. Marty Meyer. Officers then left.

Less than three hours later, the shooting began.

George Morton, a 13-year resident of Walden Street, an older, well-maintained neighborhood just south of Oxnard College, said crime on the street had been virtually nonexistent.

Morton said he was home watching movies when he heard dozens of police cars racing down the street. He walked outside as four ambulances arrived at the scene, while officers methodically searched the area for the gunmen.

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