During a decade in this quiet farm town of fewer than 1,000 residents, ceramic artist Jon Hur has felt isolated from the urban violence in news reports.
Late Tuesday, it came almost to his front door. Hur heard two barrages of gunshots, and moments later, police found two dead men across the street in front of Piru elementary school.
“At first there were four or five shots, then there was an interval,” Hur said. “Then I heard two or three more shots, some mumbling and a car speed off.”
Ventura County sheriff’s investigators said two men were shot to death about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday. They were identified Wednesday as Satnam Singh Sangha, 24, of British Columbia, Canada, and Ernest Lopez, 38, of Santa Paula.
It is the first killing--much less, double killing--that police and residents can recall in Piru.
“The closest one we could remember was one committed out on the Newhall Ranch back in 1980,” Sgt. Chris Lathrop of the Sheriff’s Department said. “I believe that guy is still serving his sentence.”
Neighbors called the slayings chilling and said they are concerned for the safety of their community.
“It’s a rarity to have something like this happen,” said Jeff Acosta, a retired factory worker who lives just yards away from the grammar school. “This town gets very few homicides.”
Detectives have no motive or suspects, but said the slayings had nothing to do with Piru School, a campus of about 450 students.
Investigators are interviewing relatives of the victims and knocking on doors around the murder scene.
“We’ve got some folks who might have heard some noises in the area, some folks who were out and around,” Lathrop said. “But we’ve got nobody who actually saw anything, so we’ve got to start from ground zero.”
Investigators said the men were found with multiple gunshot wounds minutes after a Center Street motorist told 911 dispatchers that a possibly injured person was lying in front of the school.
One of the victims was found beside a bright red rental car parked in front of the school, and the other man was sprawled about 30 feet away in a campus driveway, Lathrop said.
The car was towed to the Sheriff’s Department crime laboratory in Ventura, where analysts are studying it for clues. It was unclear who rented the vehicle, although Lathrop said it had been rented in Oxnard.
“I don’t even know if they were in the same car together,” Lathrop said. “What we have to do is try and retrace where they were and who they were with [before the shootings].”
Sangha, who had relatives in the area, apparently arrived in Ventura County only this week, officials said.
“There’s no concrete evidence we’ve dug up to establish a motive at this point,” Lathrop said. “It could be almost anything.”
Lathrop added that Lopez “has an arrest record for drug-related offenses. . . .You can draw your own conclusions.”
By midmorning on Wednesday, all that remained of the crime scene were several orange markings spray-painted on the sidewalk to remind investigators where the car and victims were discovered.
School officials said teachers and students were told of the shootings, but that classes were conducted as usual. Yearbook portraits scheduled to be taken Wednesday were postponed to today, Principal Marsha Porter said.
“This really had nothing to do with the school,” said Porter, who said the campus frequently is used as a park after hours. “It was just an ugly incident that happened.”
Dick Hebdige, an arts professor who lives at the end of Center Street, said he and his neighbors enjoy the serenity of a place that even Hollywood filmmakers like to use to represent small-town America.
“The reason people live here is because it’s close to L.A.,” he said. “But it’s not L.A.”