RIVERBANK Chaz Bettencourt and a friend left home to make an after-midnight run to the store to buy soft drinks.
When they did not return right away, his girlfriend and family members called and sent text messages to Bettencourt. But he did not reply.
"He was in his slippers, just going to the store and back," said Michelle Bettencourt, his mother. "I knew something was wrong because he is very prompt at getting back to people. It wasn't until 2:30 that they told us what happened."
At 12:40 a.m. Thursday, Bettencourt, 21, was shot outside the am-pm minimarket at Patterson and Oak- dale roads. He was taken to a Modesto hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Investigators viewed surveillance video from the store and are following numerous leads, said deputy Andrew Winter of the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department.
Detectives want to identify two Latino men and a black male whom they believe were involved in the shooting.
The surveillance video showed a white, two-door Ford Ranger pickup drive through the parking lot at the time of incident, Winter said. Detectives believe the driver is a witness and hope the person will come forward.
Authorities and family members said Bettencourt rode to the mini-mart in his friend's car and they went inside to make their purchases. As they came out of the store, they were confronted by three men. The assailants demanded the friend's car and an altercation ensued.
The friend ran back into the store to tell the clerk to call 911, when one or more shots were fired in the parking lot.
Winter declined to say whether the assailants fled on foot or in a vehicle. An autopsy was performed Thursday and evidence was sent to the crime lab for analysis.
Family members said that Bettencourt was getting his life on track after completing a substance abuse recovery program.
He was proud of his two years of sobriety and wanted to become a counselor to help people be clean and sober, his mother said.
"He wasn't embarrassed about the program, and they asked him to speak to newcomers coming on board," Michelle Bettencourt said. "It is just sad he was taken away."
Lisa Headrick, who has known Michelle since she was pregnant with Chaz, said Bettencourt could always make people smile with his charm and clever comments.
He was close to his sister, Katelyn, and prepared a barbecue dinner for her Wednesday to celebrate her getting her driver's license.
There was only shock and grief as friends and relatives gathered at the home Thursday. Fellow members of the recovery program stopped by to express their sorrow.
"It is beyond devastating," Katelyn said. "He began a new chapter in his life, and it is so sad it had to end so soon."
His peers in the program said Bettencourt gave people a lift with his personality. He was affectionately tagged with the nickname "the Godfather."
Others described a young man who was serious about getting a college degree and improving his life.
"He always wanted to pick my brain about what college was like," said Scott Self, a friend who holds a university degree. "He was very serious about his recovery and supportive of people in recovery."
Anyone with information about the shooting can call Detective Jon McQueary at 525-7099.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2321.