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Latest Gang Killing Brings Toll to Record 17 This Year

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 21-year-old part-time construction worker from Garden Grove was killed by gunfire from a passing car early Saturday morning in what police believe was a gang shooting, bringing to at least 17 the number of gang-related murders in Orange County so far this year--more than during all of 1989.

The dead man, identified by police as Jesus Gutierrez, was gunned down when he and about nine others were standing in the 4700 block of West Henderson Place, outside the home of Juan Manuel Alcantar, 24, who was shot once in the leg during the same incident.

Alcantar said a car careened by the house in the cul de sac, and someone on the passenger side--he did not see them clearly, he said--pumped three or four bullets at their small crowd without saying anything.

Alcantar called himself a veterano --an ex gang member--and said some of those gathered in front of his house Saturday morning were gang members.

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“We were just out there drinking, and a car pulled up and just started shooting, just like a regular drive-by,” said Alcantar, who was recuperating at home. “I know it’s not going to stop here.

“It was really sad because he (Jesus) was looking forward to getting himself a job,” Alcantar said. “He was cool people. I guess everybody who’s a gang member has their time. Either they get out of it now, or they die later.”

He said Gutierrez was known as a tough street boxer who preferred his fists to handguns.

The early Saturday morning shooting is the latest in a rash of deaths that erupted early on the weekend of April 21 when two teen-agers were killed by gang gunfire in separate incidents and another was seriously wounded. In a third incident that same weekend, an 8-year-old boy was shot in his home.

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In the wake of those shootings, Santa Ana police decided to double the size of its gang detail unit and began a series of weekend gang sweeps. The police chief also announced he intends to hold parents responsible if their children violate a previously unenforced 10 p.m. curfew.

However, the homicides have not subsided. A week after the pronouncements, another youth was gunned down in Garden Grove as he was talking with his girlfriend on the telephone. And now, there is this incident.

Community leaders and others who work with youths reacted Saturday with dismay at the record number of gang shootings.

“It hasn’t stopped, even with the police presence,” said Michael Salgado, a Santa Ana resident who founded Parents Against a Gang Environment shortly after some of last month’s shootings. “It’s unbelievable. . . . These are not what you’d consider barrios--long-standing Hispanic communities. These are just complete gang wars.”

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Anthony Borbon, gang prevention program director for Turning Point Family Services of Garden Grove, said it is easy for those who work with young people to feel discouraged by the mounting statistics. But he said they should find hope in increasing community awareness of the problem and the growing number of community-based groups working to bring parents, police and the schools together to try to keep kids from getting involved with gangs.

“I wish I could give waves of optimism, but I’m not real sure where we’re going with this,” he said. “No one knows what’s around the corner. I have to try to stay as optimistic as possible. I don’t want to say we’ve lost it. We haven’t lost it.

“We have more kids doing good things than kids doing bad things. We’ve got a lot of fine young kids out there working and getting ready for college,” he said. “We don’t hear about them.”

And while some in the community may be alarmed at the increasing gang problem in Orange County, where there were 16 shootings last year, others point out that the situation here pales compared to Los Angeles County, where there were 570 gang-related homicides in 1989.

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About Saturday morning’s incident, Santa Ana police said the two men who were hit were standing near Alcantar’s home when a vehicle with two occupants drove up to them and stopped. The passenger “made contact” with Gutierrez, then “shot twice without any provocation,” police said.

As the vehicle drove away, several more shots were fired, one of them striking Alcantar in the left leg. Gutierrez died at AMI Medical Center of Garden Grove.

“It appears to be gang-related,” Santa Ana Police Sgt. Jack Rife said.

A cousin of Gutierrez, who did not want his name used, said the slain man “hung around” with gang members. He would provide little other information about his cousin, whom everyone called Jessie, or “J.”

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Alcantar’s mother, Mariana Gutierrez, said she recalls being awakened by gunfire and when she looked out the front window, she saw three cars, with at least one of them driving away quickly down the street. It was not until the next morning that she learned her son had been one of those injured.

Mariana Alcantar appeared shocked when a reporter told her her son said he was a veteran gang member.

“My sons do not dress like gang members,” she said. “They are not in gangs.”

Juan Manuel, whom family and friends call Manuel, is the oldest of Alcantar’s five sons, his mother said. Another son, Abel, 18, is in the Army and has dreamed of becoming a police officer since he was a boy.

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A large picture of Abel in a suit dominates one wall of the living room. She recounted the story of how Abel was the victim of gang gunfire when he was 9, one day shortly after the family had moved into the neighborhood, and he was riding his tricycle.

“They got him in the leg and the bullet grazed his hand, and from that day on he has always had bad feelings towards those who gather in the streets like that,” she said. “And he grew up saying he wanted to a be a policeman.”

Abel has been an Explorer Scout and a junior police officer with Santa Ana police for several years before joining the Army last year when he turned 18. But at the same time, she said, her other sons have been the target of police investigations that she believes are unjust.

In the neat bedroom decorated in blue and white, with a crib and other baby things around him, Alcantar, who works at a muffler and brake shop, said that his two children, 5-year-old Monica and 3-month-old Joey, are the reasons he is no longer in a gang.

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“Now that this happened, they’re probably going to go back and shoot and just keep it going,” he said. “As for myself, I’ve got a family. It’s just bad luck. Wrong place at the wrong time.

“I’m what you call a veterano, " he said. “I hanged around (with the gang) back then, but it’s time to move on. Mostly (in a gang), you have all the youngsters, the 15- to 20-year-olds, and I guess when you’re older and you have a family, you want to get away from it and take care of your family.”

About the possibility of retaliation, he said: “I don’t know if these guys are going to do a pay-back for this. . . . I know it’s not normal. That’s just the way it is. It’s just the way of the world. Somebody gets killed and you mourn for that person, and then you go out and retaliate.

“A lot of the homeboys have pride in their barrios. A lot of pride,” he said. “They get so close to it, they don’t want to say, ‘I quit.’ Homeboys become brothers and it’s like their own brother got killed. It’s been going on for years like this here.

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“I wish it never happened. But that’s what it is,” he said. “It’s like a war going on here. . . . Pretty soon you’re gonna have gang members wearing bulletproof vests. Pretty soon you’re going to have gang members throwing hand grenades and bombs.”

17 VICTIMS: Police say gang members travel armed and don’t always aim well, taking innocents too. A20


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