Stacey Gonzales remembers her daughter, Janessa Ramirez, as a happy child who lived for the moment.
“She was not looking to the future yet, just very happy-go-lucky, very helpful and friendly,” Gonzales said Tuesday.
Janessa, 9, died Sunday night when she was hit by a stray bullet in what appears to have been a gang dispute. Authorities announced Tuesday that a reward for the shooter’s arrest has been increased to $22,500.
The gunfire broke out about 8:40 p.m. when Stacey Gonzales and Janessa went to a store at Clinton and Marks avenues to cash in lottery tickets. Ironically, Janessa wanted her mom to buy tickets at the store because she had won $50 there and thought it was a lucky spot. The two were in the parking lot when they saw friends at a nearby laundry and went over to chat with them. That’s when the stray round, fired from several hundred yards away, struck Janessa, who died a short time later at Community Regional Medical Center.
As police continue to search for those responsible for the murder —detectives were still at the crime scene Tuesday — Gonzales said she wants those responsible to surrender to police.
“Turn yourself in — own up to what you did,” she said.
She said one reason the family has decided to hold a large, public funeral for Janessa at the Cornerstone Church in downtown Fresno is in the hope that someone who knows something will attend.
At the same time, she said she is grateful for the support she’s received from the community and police.
“The police have been wonderful. I feel very blessed for that.” She said she has been in close contact with Chief Jerry Dyer.
She also said that the tragedy has not made her bitter toward Fresno.
“I’ve been here all my life. There is good and bad everywhere.”
Gonzales and more than 10 members of her family attended a news conference Tuesday afternoon at Fresno Police Department. Dyer said he has 40 detectives on the case and 17 tips so far. He said the incident “definitely involves gangs” but wouldn’t discuss any specific details about them.
District 1 City Council member Esmeralda Soria announced the reward for tips leading to an arrest increased from $5,000 to $22,500, including $5,000 each from her council office budget, Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea and Assembly Member Henry T. Perea, and $2,500 from a local business owner.
Soria said this kind of crime shakes up the community. “We need to make sure justice is served,” she said.
Dyer said three businesses have video footage that shows the spot where Janessa and her mother stood that night. None have footage of the shooting.
But the video was helpful, he said, because it clarified that only one car, not two, sped away from the shooting. Video showed a white four-door car of an unknown make or model driving south on Marks Avenue toward Clinton Avenue. The car ran the red light at that intersection then turned west onto Clinton and left the area.
Dyer said video showed someone running north toward the location of the shooting. It also showed a light colored pickup truck parked at the intersection, south on Marks at Clinton, just as the shooting occurred. The white car is seen driving next to the truck and making a right turn, he said.
“We would love for that individual who was parked at that intersection and then proceeded southbound to contact our detective so that we can determine what he or she saw,” Dyer said.
Dyer said he thinks more than 50 people were in the area at the time of the shooting, though police haven’t talked to the majority of them. Detectives did interview 90 people when officers arrived who were either at the shooting location, inside businesses or in apartments.
Dyer said it’s hard to tell whether the tips they have received are credible because many are anonymous. He said he asked several of his detectives and sergeants on Tuesday how confident they are about solving the case.
“All of them said, ‘highly confident.’ So I say that today not to give any type of unrealistic expectation, but I can tell you that they are optimistic that they are going to solve this case,” he said.
That comment elicited an “amen” from one family member.
Frank Posas, Janessa’s grandfather, urged the shooter to do the right thing.
“Everybody has a conscience,” he said. “We forgive you. Jesus Christ forgives you.”
Gonzales echoed his sentiment, adding, “I can forgive; I’ll never forget.”
Meanwhile, at Janessa’s school, Steinbeck Elementary, counselors were on campus in the aftermath of the shooting. Superintendent Michael Berg of Central Unified School District said the counselors were available to students, faculty and parents. Berg met with staff at Steinbeck early Tuesday.
“We’re creating a safe environment at the school that obviously doesn’t exist in the community,” he said.