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Store reopens after 2 killed

THE REGION

November 30, 2008|Esmeralda Bermudez and Ruben Vives | Bermudez and Vives are Times staff writers.

PALM DESERT AND LOS ANGELES — Shoppers returned to Toys R Us in Palm Desert on Saturday, a day after two men shot each other dead in front of terrified Black Friday customers.

An armed security guard stood watch outside the store and another was inside. A police car patrolled the parking lot. Many employees came from other Southland stores because some regular clerks were too scared to return, said an employee who asked not to be identified by name.

"Everybody is pretty shocked about it, but we're professionals and we just have to try and do our job," Amber Moreno, 18, of Palm Desert said.

The dead men were identified by Riverside County sheriff's officials as Alejandro Moreno, 39, of Desert Hot Springs and Juan Meza, 28, of Cathedral City. Two handguns were recovered at the scene.

The shooting occurred about 11:30 a.m. Friday after two women got into a fight. After the women began arguing, witnesses said, Meza pulled out a gun. Moreno also pulled out a gun and started chasing and shooting at Meza, witnesses said. Frantic shoppers either dropped to the floor or stormed out of the store.

Sheriff's Sgt. Dennis Gutierrez said no one was arrested, but he would not identify the women. Their dispute was not part of the investigation, Gutierrez said.

Many shoppers Saturday were slightly skittish.

Valerie Criscuolo, 26, of Twentynine Palms went to the store with Marcus Noil and their two sons. It was their elder child's birthday, and the family planned to go to Chuck E. Cheese and Toys R Us.

After hearing about the shooting, the family almost canceled its plans, but the security guards reassured them, Criscuolo said.

Ryan Tidd, 13, of Sky Valley went to the store with his parents but seemed nervous. As his mother, Michelle, perused video board games, he asked her if the gunmen could return.

"They can't come back," she said, although that didn't seem to reassure the boy.

Tidd said the situation was surreal.

"You gotta be kidding me," she said. "A shooting at a Toys R Us?"

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esmeralda.bermudez@latimes.com

ruben.vives@latimes.com

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Times staff writers Jason Song and Michelle Maltais contributed to this report.

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