Bouquets of yellow and pink flowers are clustered along the brick wall
at Nichols Street and Wagon Drive. Colored candles with religious images
form a cross on the sidewalk.
Families and friends of Oscar Gaytan, 18, and Heriberto Tapia Vasquez,
16, two Huntington Beach boys killed in a gangland shooting Saturday,
have blanketed the sidewalks where their loved ones perished. Flowers,
candles and framed pictures of the fallen teenagers now act as a reminder
of the heartbreak and trauma that inevitably follows street violence.
A second memorial cropped up on a strip of sidewalk on Jacquelyn Lane,
where Vasquez fell.
The memorials popped up on Saturday, following the tragic shootings in
the Oak View neighborhood over the weekend.
Police are in the midst of an intensive investigation into the deaths,
which are thought to be gang-related. No suspects have been arrested.
Gaytan and Vasquez were both fatally shot early Saturday morning as
they walked along Nichols.
While Gaytan died at the scene, Vasquez crawled down the street toward
a relative's house, where he collapsed. Both boys were shot in the upper
The killings broke the city's nearly three-year streak without a
homicide. They were the first since the murder of Bridgette Ballas, a
29-year-old Calvin Klein account executive who was found raped and
bludgeoned to death on Nov. 27, 1999. Police arrested 23-year-old Victor
Miranda-Guerrero for that crime.
Saturday's vicious double homicide deeply saddened city leaders who
said they have strived to make this city a safe place.
Councilwoman Shirley Dettloff said she has worked to implement
after-school programs in the Oak View neighborhood to provide activities
for idle teens.
"We've made a real concerted effort to work with that community,"
Dettloff said. "It's very disturbing."
Seething with equal parts rage and grief, Gaytan's 14-year-old brother
remembered Oscar's trademark sense of humor.
"He wasn't a bad person," Danny Gaytan said. "He was a nice person. He
used to tease people. He was funny."
However, both boys, who were close friends, were also known for their
brushes with police.
Gaytan, the father of a 5-month-old son, Ivan, had been released from
juvenile hall earlier this year.
School administrators at Ocean View High School remembered Gaytan as a
student who had little success in the classroom. In fact, he was
constantly absent, Assistant Principal Paul Sevillano said.
"Mr. Gaytan never attended our school regularly," Sevillano said. "He
had a habitual truancy problem."
Orange County's social services unit had pulled Gaytan out of Ocean
View in 1999. He was briefly enrolled at Valley Vista High School in
Fountain Valley during June of 1999 before heading off to juvenile hall,
school officials said.
Vasquez's school attendance was equally spotty. Vasquez attended
Marine View Middle School and tried to enroll at Huntington Beach High
School for the 1999-2000 school year under the name Heriberto Tapia.
Vasquez applied to the school on Dec. 1, 1999, but was turned down a
day later. Since he was a minor, his school records are not public.
Both boys were members of the South Side gang, friends and relatives
said. Members of several Oak View families formed South Side in the early
1980s, police said.
With about 100 members, South Side is the city's only Latino turf gang
and has been linked to drug trafficking activity, burglaries, assaults
and other crimes, Detective Mark Garcia said.
In an effort to suppress the gang's activities, four members of the
department's gang unit patrol Oak View on a daily basis.
While South Side is the only Latino gang in the city, members of rival
gangs in other cities live in Huntington Beach. The city is home to
members of Latino and Vietnamese gangs in Santa Ana and Garden Grove,
In July of 1999, two South Side members were shot and killed in a
24-hour period in Oak View by rival gang members from Santa Ana.
The killing of Gaytan and Vasquez marked the first double homicide in
the city since 1995. On May 15 of that year, Harry Ryan, 48, and Leopoldo
Estrella-Varela, 30, were shot and killed in the 7500 block of Slater,
about a block away from Saturday's shooting.
The 1995 killings have still not been solved and no suspects have been
arrested or charged with the crime.
But the department has worked to clear up Oak View's lingering
problems, officers said.
The department also has been trying to reestablish a link to the Oak
View neighborhood in the past year since officer Mark Wersching shot and
killed 18-year-old Antonio Saldivar. The District Attorney elected not to
pursue charges against the officer.
"We've had some dialogue with that community," Lt. Ron Burgess said.
"A lot of times people give us information."
* PAUL CLINTON is a reporter with Times Community News. He covers City
Hall and education. He may be reached at (714) 965-7173 or by e-mail ato7 email@example.com .