Santa Cruz police detectives maintain a crime scene on San Lorenzo Boulevard Thursday morning where a 13-year-old boy was shot and killed at 8 p.m. Wednesday night. (Photos by Tarmo Hannula).
SANTA CRUZ — Police are continuing an investigation into a 13-year-old boy was shot and killed Wednesday night in the Beach Flats area of Santa Cruz.
At 8 p.m. Santa Cruz Police were dispatched to a report of a youth down with two gunshot wounds at the corner of San Lorenzo Boulevard at Bixby Street, said Deputy Chief Rick Martinez.
An off duty nurse and an off duty paramedic were already on the scene treating the boy who was later identified by relatives as Joey Mendoza. Martinez said Santa Cruz City Fire paramedics then arrived and tried to revive Mendoza. Their efforts failed and he was pronounced dead at the scene, Martinez said.
Police closed off that section of San Lorenzo Boulevard on the 100 block throughout the night to preserve evidence and allow time for investigators to study the scene Thursday in daylight.
No arrests have been made.
“This is pretty bad,” said Jenice Correa who was staying at a hotel next to the crime scene. “We had reservations for two nights here but we cancelled the second night. This is not what we want to see on a vacation.”
Rocio Luna, who lives around the corner from the crime scene, said he heard four shots Wednesday night.
“I came out here and he was on the ground,” Luna said. “A lady was trying to help him. He was still alive. The police came and made us leave.”
On Thursday morning the California highway Patrol and firefighters responded to vehicle fire on Larkin Valley Road at White Road in Corralitos at 8 a.m. A Dodge Caravan, which was perched on a steep wooded hillside, was entirely engulfed with flames when Cal Fire officials arrived. The fire also spread into the wild land and witnesses told police they saw flames climb as high as 60-feet into a stand of eucalyptus trees.
Investigators later learned the entirely charred Dodge Caravan, which was reported stolen on Amesti Road Wednesday, has ties to the Santa Cruz homicide.
Police are treating the shooting as gang-related, Martinez said. “We know the victim had previous gang ties and we have dealt with him many times in the past for gang issues,” Martinez said. “In fact, our PRIDE intervention team has reached out to him, even recently. He was a target audience.” PRIDE is an acronym for Personally Responsible Individual Development in Ethics.
“Team members considered him at risk,” Martinez said, “and we offered him a spot in our county education program but he turned it down.”
Mendoza’s family, however, spoke strongly about him not being involved with gangs.
“He was a pretty boy and was mostly interested in girls, nice clothes and keeping his hair done right,” said his cousin, Brenda Gomez. “He just wanted to dress nice and be good in football. He was all excited about the football season starting this weekend. This is unreal, to not hear his voice any more.”
Indeed, other family members rallied Thursday morning near the crime and, in concert, disputed any notion of gang ties.
Gomez said that Mendoza knew he was being chased and that he was afraid.
“He told us he was scared,” she said.
Deputy Chief Martinez said detectives were working the case around the clock. He said investigators believed the shooting has ties to recent gang violence in Watsonville.
Police are also looking for a black Lexus involved in the incident.
Watsonville police and the Santa Cruz County Gang Task Force are working with SCPD on the case. The Department of Justice has also been brought in along with the California Highway Patrol to help process the stolen and charred minivan.
“We are collaborating with all our county resources on this,” Martinez said. “We have pulled a lot of guns off the streets and put in a lot of effort. This shooting is a loss and a step backwards. This is a difficult day for the family, and for the men and women who work these programs and try to reach out to our area youths.”
Brenda Gomez said her family was in deep grief.
“We’re just remembering the funny things he used to say,” she said. “He was a bright kid and could light up a room.”
The death marks the second homicide in Santa Cruz this year. In December Jesse Lopez, 14, was shot and killed on Hecker Pass in a gang-related shooting. David Sanchez, 19 and Alexis Rodriguez, 18, were tracked down by police and have been charged with murder Carlos Valencia, 20 and Juan Soto Gonzalez, 22, have been charged as accessories in the incident.
Anyone with information regarding the Mendoza shooting is encouraged to contact the Santa Cruz Police Department at 420-5820. An anonymous tip can also left at 420-5995.
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