Watsonville Mayor Lowell Hurst talks to local media at the crime scene Monday. A small shrine was set up late Saturday or early Sunday at the scene. (Photo by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)
WATSONVILLE — Marco Ortega, the 18-year-old man who was shot at Watsonville High School Friday night and later pronounced dead was trying to improve his life and struggling to return to Pajaro Valley High School, one of his teachers said Monday.
Louie LaFortune, an instructor at New School in Watsonville, said Ortega was his student last year.
“He had behavior issues, like all of our students,” LaFortune said. “But he was starting to get his life back together. He decided he wanted to get back into school and enter Pajaro Valley High. I was hearing good things about him. But he did take an active interest in gang activities. He just didn’t seem to be getting the attention from adults that he needed.”
Ortega was shot just before 8 p.m. between the tennis courts and parking lot at 250 E. Beach St., police said.
He was taken by friends to Watsonville Community Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
The shooting occurred on a remote part of the campus and was not witnessed by attendees of the sporting events that were occurring at the school.
The motive was not known Monday, but police said Saturday that it appeared to be consistent with gang crime.
Ortega was “loosely affiliated” with gangs, Watsonville Police Sgt. Eric Taylor said.
Watsonville Police first learned about the shooting from hospital staff that called to report it.
Under chilly and windy conditions Monday, Watsonville Mayor Lowell Hurst dropped by the crime scene.
“This was a very unfortunate incident,” he said. “Parents need to come together to find constructive alternatives to gangs and gang life styles. It is of great concern to me that no one called 911 following the shooting that night. Police can’t be everywhere and they need the eyes and ears of the community. This parking lot is basically the back entrance to the campus and a lot of people come through this way. Maybe we could get better lighting and security out here.”
Hurst, who taught at WHS for 25 years, said he taught agriculture classes at the Ag Academy garden, which abuts the parking lot where Ortega was gunned down.
It was later learned that Ortega was shot multiple times in the upper body, according to Watsonville Police Sgt. Mike McKinley.
Officers determined that he had been in the parking lot when he was confronted by several males, who shot Ortega before fleeing the scene, McKinley said.
Police called the shooting an “isolated incident,” and stressed that it was not related to Watsonville High School or the students who attend classes there.
A shrine was set up on the curb in the parking lot at the school over the weekend. The vase of flowers was near a trashcan where remnants of crime scene tape were still evident.
The campus was busy Friday night, with a wrestling match, a soccer game and a dance.
Taylor said officers got a statement from Ortega before he went into surgery.
No arrests have been made. It was the second homicide in Watsonville this year.
On Jan. 18, 18-year-old Marco Topete was shot multiple times on the 200 block of Second Street near Walker and pronounced dead at the scene.
Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance CEO Jenny Sarmiento said that counselors were preparing to offer grief counseling to students
Such situations, she said, often leave students with feelings of uneasiness, fear and sadness.
“They are not feeling safe because it happened in such a public place,” she said. “They may be at risk of being injured, even though they are not involved.”
Sarmiento said that violent incidents force students to be more vigilant, which can cause stress.
“It’s really time for us to get together in supporting youth in making better decisions, and offering more pro-social activities,” she said.
Police ask anyone with information on the shooting to call investigations at 768-3352 or the anonymous tip line at 768-3544.
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