Shooting rocks Oak View

Paul Clinton

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

torso.

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,

police said.

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 paul.clinton@latimes.comf7 .

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