HUGHSON -- Teenagers and parents are in bewilderment after a dramatic year of violence in this small community.
Hughson, a typically calm, agriculture-based town in Stanislaus County, has suffered a series of terrible events.
In early September, two homicide victims Camilo Angulo and Guillermo Zavala Guitron, both 19 were found in a burning car in Hughson. There have been reports that the killings were in retaliation for the stabbing of a Deep South Side Norteño gang member at a Hughson party a month earlier. The stabbing of Demetrius Martinez, 18, was determined to be self-defense.
In the latest Hughson violence, on July 25, an exchange of gunfire left two men dead in a Seventh Street home. John Szuggar, 52, a former resident of the street, was reported to have been suicidal when he fled from sheriff's deputies out of Oakdale around 1:18 p.m. that day. He led them on a slow-speed chase into Hughson, where he ran into the home of past neighbor Nick Kounias, 45, with whom he reportedly had been in a long-standing feud. A woman fled the house as neighbors and deputies reported hearing gunfire.
When a SWAT team entered the residence, they found both men dead.
I saw the anxiety that Hughson residents felt during the incident. I happened upon the crime scene, on the corner of Seventh Street and Fox Road, where people began to gather as soon as law enforcement officials arrived. By the time Hughson had become aware of what was happening, and yellow caution tape marked off the roads surrounding the Kounias residence, I moved to the northern end of the blocked area.
Onlookers many of them residents evacuated from their homes huddled anxiously in small groups.
By around 4:30 p.m., the crowd watched as numerous emergency response vehicles vacated the somewhat picturesque street.
While the immediate danger had subsided, the tested nerves of many teens and parents still were on edge, especially in a town where the highlights of the year are football games and harvest time.
Hughson resident Dillon Putnam, 15, is one of many teenagers facing the reality of the recent dangerous events. He was on the scene at Seventh Street.
"I feel a little nervous with all these things happening," Dillon said. "I don't think it matters if I live in Hughson or some other city; crime is increasing everywhere."
Debra Dean, 46, sees the dangers from a the perspective of a parent.
"I am glad my daughter is not here right now. I wouldn't want her to see these things." Her daughter, Vanessa Dean, graduated from Hughson High School in 2010, and attended Kaplan College for nursing.
John Weimers, a senior at Hughson High School, was also at the scene and said, "Yeah, the people there didn't know how to react."
After the fact, he said, "My parents are just cautious. They don't know what is going on in Hughson anymore."
For the teenagers, parents and other residents, the reaction to the havoc is varied. For some, it's immediate and directed, such as placing a limit on teen activity.
"I'm allowed to go most places still, as long as it is not too far from my house," Dillon said.
For others, life just goes on.
"I don't think it will affect me much at school," John said. "My friend and I talked about it, and he didn't say much, just that it is crazy that Hughson is so sketchy now."
As I walked around town on July 25, I remembered passing a woman. She asked, "Did you hear what happened? Stuff like this never happens in Hughson."
I feel these incidents expose Hughson teens to the reality of life in the larger world. At the same time they make us all understand that no matter where you live whether in Hughson or Modesto horrible things will happen. It is in how we react to these incidents that make us different.
Keaton Crowder is a 2012 graduate of Hughson High School and a member of The Bee's Teens in the Newsroom program.
Police activity is becoming more common now in Hughson. At far left, Dillon Putnam and John Weimers view the scene. At left, Debra Dean makes a call during the incident.