After three shooting deaths over the Memorial Day holiday that appear gang-related, Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer ordered the entire department – including auto theft, traffic and narcotics officers – to go after gang members roving the city looking to gun down rivals and settle scores.
Often, as in the bloody weekend violence, their bullets are finding innocent bystanders, the chief said.
“They don’t care who they shoot, and they don’t care who else dies as long as they can send a message,” Dyer said during a Tuesday morning news conference. “That’s a mentality we can’t understand.”
The chief also spoke to the broader goal of ending gang violence completely. Dyer said police vigilance may prevent gang retaliation in the near future, but it will not keep violence from recurring. He urged pastors, parents and other communities to work to keep young people out of gangs.
“It is time that we, as a community, come together, each and every one of us, so that we can put an end to this violence,” he said. “We will do our part. We will bring out our special response team and our traffic officers and everyone to go out and stop the immediacy of the violence. But from a long-term strategy, we need the help of every single person in this community. Or we are going to be facing this 15 years from now.”
Dyer said he is ordering officers to focus on preventing further gang violence with the high-visibility patrols targeting armed individuals.
In at least one of the shootings, a man was killed by gang members who challenged him simply because he was wearing red shorts, Dyer said. .
Slain was Manuel Lopez, 22, who was gunned down about 12:45 a.m. Sunday near East White and North Backer avenues. He was walking with a friend when a car pulled up.
“What’s up, ese?” the gunman challenged, before he shot Lopez, then brazenly stole the shorts and Lopez’s shoes, Dyer said.
Early Monday, the niece of former Deputy Chief Keith Foster was fatally shot on South Bardell and East Lorena avenues after a car pulled up to an outdoor gathering. The driver hit the high beams and the vehicle’s occupants began firing multiple weapons. Kayla Foster, 18, a Central High student, who initially declined to attend the gathering, was struck in the head and fatally wounded. The friend who invited her was also shot multiple times.
In a third shooting, Paul Cerrato, 40, was shot to death just after 1:30 a.m. Sunday in southeast Fresno near South Willow and East Inyo avenues. Police found Cerrato, who had sustained multiple gunshot wounds, after investigating a call for the city’s ShotSpotter system. Cerrato died at Community Regional Medical Center. Dyer said investigators believe the murder was also gang-related, and that witnesses heard a loud argument before the shooting broke out.