Police swept through the "Big Stanton" neighborhood at dawn Monday, searching homes of several suspected gang members and arresting a 15-year-old boy on suspicion of murdering Rosendo Ibarra, a 17-year-old who was shot in the head in April while talking to his girlfriend at a pay phone.
Police have arrest warrants for two other suspects in the murder: Martin Rene Rodriguez, 21, the man suspected of pulling the trigger, and Joseph David Kehler, who was arrested in the slaying in May but who was never charged and was subsequently released. Neither was in custody as of Monday evening.
The 15-year-old suspect, who as a minor was not identified, is accused of helping plan the attack and standing next to the gunman during the shooting.
The Ibarra murder is the latest spasm in a three-generation rivalry between residents of Big Stanton and the La Colonia Independencia neighborhood, where Ibarra lived. Despite the bad blood, police say they've had to work the case with little help from either neighborhood.
Even Ibarra's friends are enforcing the rule of silence.
"Nobody's testifying against nobody on this side," said one of them, a burly man who stood in the dusty yard of a small wooden house in La Colonia, a few doors down from where Ibarra had lived. His arms and neck were covered with La Colonia tattoos, which he said were a souvenir from San Quentin. "What happened, happened. But there ain't no informants here."
"Luckily, our case isn't based upon those people anyway," Garden Grove Police Detective Mike Handfield said. "Our case is based on ballistic evidence, and evidence from other people that are outside the gang."
Meanwhile, Anaheim police and the Orange County Sheriff's Department reported three drive-by attacks on young men in the two neighborhoods in the past week. Authorities could not say Monday whether the shootings are related to the Colonia-Stanton feud, chiefly because the victims have declined to tell police who shot them.
Last Thursday, 18-year-old Cesar Navarro was shot in the leg on Flower Street in Stanton, in the heart of Big Stanton territory, Orange County Sheriff's Lt. Bob Rivas said.
On Saturday, according to neighbors, Navarro's younger brother went to visit him at Humana Hospital-West Anaheim and was shot in the hospital parking lot.
"A vehicle pulled up and asked 'who he claimed,' (meaning) what his territory was or his gang affiliation," said Anaheim Police Sgt. Chet Berry. "He replied, 'Big Stanton,' and somebody in the car pulled out a gun and shot him in the left wrist."
Both brothers gave only the vaguest accounts of their attackers, Berry and Rivas said.
A 17-year-old shot through the shoulder early Saturday morning in a drive-by attack on Berry Street, in La Colonia turf, was similarly unhelpful, Rivas said.
"When people are shot, they're uncooperative," Rivas said. "They don't even want to give a description. A lot of these people want to settle things on their own."
The hunt for Ibarra's killers has taken two months and made several hairpin turns.
Police say Ibarra was a member of the Colonia gang. Relatives deny it. The father of a 1-year-old daughter, Ibarra had dropped out of Magnolia High School in his junior year and had been living with an aunt on Berry Street, an unincorporated area tucked amid Stanton, Anaheim and Garden Grove.
Ibarra was often seen at a telephone booth in a shopping mall in Garden Grove, about a block away, because he had a girlfriend in Los Angeles, and his aunt did not have a telephone, relatives said.
About 11 p.m. on April 30, Ibarra was shot in the head. A cousin rushed out of the house and cradled him in her arms as he died.
About 11:30 p.m., Cypress police arrested Joe David Kehler, 23, at a loud party in a motel room, about three miles west of the murder scene. While police were arresting Kehler and a friend on drug charges, they stumbled onto a link to the Ibarra shooting. Investigators also found a .38-caliber revolver that they believe to be the murder weapon.
Kehler and a second man, David Alan Davis, 22, were later arrested on suspicion of murder, but evidence from the preliminary investigation was insufficient to charge them with the killing, Garden Grove Detective Handfield said.
Davis was released, while Kehler remained in custody on a drug charge.
"But they let (Kehler) out for whatever reason, and now we can't find him," Handfield added.
Kehler said in a newspaper interview that he was at the murder scene but denied taking part.
According to Handfield, Kehler, Davis, Rodgriguez, the 15-year-old and possibly another person were in the car that drove up to Ibarra. Rodriguez and the 15-year-old got out of the car and walked up to the victim, and Rodriguez shot him, the detective alleged.
Davis was not charged and is considered a witness, Handfield said.
The 15-year-old was charged with homicide and is to appear at a detention hearing today in Juvenile Court, according to Orange County Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Dennis Bauer.
Rodriguez's father, Robert S. Rodriguez, sat on his porch Monday outside the Rose Street home that sheriff's deputies had searched for nearly an hour. His son, known as Rene, no longer lives there, the father said.
"I don't even know where he lives," Rodriguez said. "As soon as he sees me, he takes off."
But Rodriguez said he does not believe his son is guilty of murder.
"I don't think so. He doesn't want to work, but to me, he's not a bad guy." But he added, "If he comes (home), I'm gonna call the cops for sure. I don't want him in the street."
Cars often drive by the house and shoot, said Rodriguez's 9-year-old daughter, Jessica. When they come, "I just lay down on the floor. My friend (two houses down) almost got shot," she said, holding her small hands about six inches apart. "It came that close."
Across the street, a man who identified himself as Rene Rodriguez's cousin had a tattoo across his back that read "Stanton," elaborate blue drawings on both arms, a foot-long scar down the center of his chest, and "Orange County" engraved on his stomach--the only tattoo, he said, that had really hurt.
Asked about the conflict with Colonia, the man, who said he had quit the gang 10 years ago, pointed at the Rodriguez home: "They built that house in 1936, and there was stuff going on then. . . . It's been going on for years. It's going to keep on going. They probably don't even remember what it started over."
A mile away in La Colonia, Ibarra's friend's markings were nearly identical--down to the gang initials tattooed on the left side of each man's neck, so as to be clearly visible above the T-shirt line. They read "L.C." instead of "STN."
And his sentiments were nearly identical.
"This is our barrio here, this is not a gang," said the man, who, like his rival, refused to give his name. "From one generation to another, it's just going to keep going on. I was born here, you know, and that's the way it is. . . .
"Nobody here knows what happened (to Ibarra,)" he added. "Nobody's seen nothing. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, all that stuff. Nobody's testifying against nobody."