A Modesto man became the city's third homicide victim this month Monday night. Police say Barkho Slefo, 19, was shot to death near Japonica Way and Lincoln Avenue, off Yosemite Boulevard in southeast Modesto.
Police responded to a report of shots fired about 9:55 p.m. When officers arrived, they found Slefo inside a car at the intersection. Police believe Slefo was with his 17-year-old girlfriend when the shooting happened. She was not injured, said police spokesman Sgt. Brian Findlen. Police have not arrested any suspects.
Detectives are investigating whether the shooting is gang-related, Findlen said.
Lisa Flores, who lives near where the shooting took place, said she heard people shouting "norte" and "scrap" just before she heard five gunshots. Norte and scrap are gang slang words. "The next thing you know, we heard shots," Flores said.
In the fall, neighborhood residents told The Bee they had seen evidence of increasing gang activity in their neighborhood. The symbol "X4," used by Norteños to claim turf, started appearing more often in graffiti. The symbol stands for "N," the alphabet's 14th letter, and can be a marker for Norteño areas.
Flores said she often sees young people outside in the neighborhood late at night. They hang out at a bus stop on Lincoln Avenue, sometimes drinking alcohol, smoking and throwing bottles into the street, she said. Flores said she complained to police about the problem.
In November, police arrested a 17-year-old from Empire on suspicion of vandalizing a Japonica Way house. Police believe the vandalism was retaliation against the man who lived there. The man had told police that underage kids had asked him to buy beer for them at a liquor store on Yosemite Boulevard.
Findlen said there's no evidence to suggest that Monday night's shooting is related to the vandalism incident.
Findlen said police are aware of "gang elements" in the neighborhood. He said officers have been in the area frequently this year. Sometimes they're responding to calls from residents, he said; other times, they're doing what he called "proactive enforcement" such as making traffic stops and initiating contact with people.
The 24-hour convenience store at Yosemite and Lincoln has generated some problems, Findlen said, with police responding to reports of beer thefts and assaults there.
In February, a resident called police to report apparent drug activity near Lincoln and Japonica. Findlen said an officer arrived seven minutes later but found nothing. The officer couldn't investigate the report further, Findlen said, because the resident had called police anonymously.
"We urge people not to be intimidated by drug activity or criminal activity in their neighborhoods," he said. "If they see this type of stuff, we urge them to call in and provide information so an officer can come out and investigate it."
Monday night's shooting is the city's sixth homicide this year. Police classify the shooting death of Richard Robles by a Modesto police officer as a homicide, though authorities ruled that the shooting was legally justified. Last year at this time, Modesto had five homicides.
Investigators ask anyone with information about the shooting to call the Modesto Police Department at 572-9500 or Crime Stoppers at 521-4636. Tipsters also can text information to Crime Stoppers by sending a text message to 274637. Type "TIP704" along with the message.
Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2378.