and Erin Tracy
MODESTO A man charged with two counts of first-degree murder appeared in court Wednesday afternoon for the first time since he was arrested on suspicion of gunning down a teenage boy and a man Sunday night outside an Oakdale convenience store.
Ryan Neil Mazzariello, 25, is accused of fatally shooting Abel Calderon, 20, and Ruben Mora Jr., 15, at Oakdale Market on I Street.
Family and friends of Mazzariello who attended the hearing said he felt tormented and was responding to a series of threats to him and his family from gang members over the past year.
The friends and family all asked that their names not to be published, fearing retaliation.
"My sympathy to the families (of Calderon and Mora)," said Mazzariello's father as he fought back tears in the courthouse hallway. "I don't know what exactly happened that night."
A Stanislaus County sheriff's spokesman would not verify the claims that Mazzariello was being threatened by gang members. Detectives have not released details of the case because it could harm the investigation.
Elias Arrellano, Mora's uncle, also attended Wednesday's hearing. He said he has no indication his nephew and Calderon were gang members or affiliated with gangs.
He also said he didn't know what his nephew was doing in the liquor store's parking lot that night, but he has been told that Mora went to the market to get a soda.
"It sounds to me like they were just at the wrong place at the wrong time," Arrellano said. "We're are all trying to piece together what happened."
Not only have Mora and Calderon been lost to gun violence, but Arrellano said Mazzariello's family could lose a loved one to prison.
"My heart goes out to them, too," Arrellano said. "It's a sad thing all around. I'm just sad more than anything."
Calderon and Mora were not alone in the parking lot the night they were shot. Sheriff's Sgt. Anthony Bejaran said Wednesday there were about 10 to 15 people in the parking lot Sunday night.
Investigators have said that a rifle was found at the crime scene, but they have not released information on what motivated the shooting.
Bejaran would not say whether Calderon or Mora were associated with gangs or if anyone at the scene had connections to gangs. He also would not say whether the two people shot to death were innocent bystanders.
Mazzariello is a member of the Army National Guard, his family and friends said, and he was deployed overseas to Kosovo in 2008 and 2009 as part of a United Nations effort to provide enforcement against human trafficking. He did not serve in combat.
His father said his son suffered some stress from being so far away from his family and from the military drills and exercises.
Mazzariello's friend and fellow soldier believes Mazzariello, like himself, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder but wasn't diagnosed.
"The human brain wasn't meant to be like a mouse hiding from a cat," he said. "The psychiatrist told me that something changes, and then it doesn't change back."
The friend said Mazzariello was involved in a fist fight about a year before at the Oakdale Market with a Norteño gang member. The fight started "with words" from the gang member and ended with Mazzariello coming out on top in the fight.
Since then, the friend said Norteño gang members have threatened Mazzariello and his family every time they see him. He believes a year of gang threats pushed Mazzariello over the edge.
Mazzariello's father said there must have been some dispute or confrontation at the store to cause his son to return to the market after leaving.
"He just snapped and did what he had to do protect his family," his father said. "I'm in no way saying what he did was right. He didn't go down there looking for trouble, but something happened that triggered him."
He said his son was working through a temp agency at Sconza Candy Co.'s factory in Oakdale until he was recently laid off. Mazzariello was considering joining the Navy, hoping for a military career.
Mazzariello has a wife and two daughters, ages 1 and 3. His wife said, "I'm truly remorseful for the families, but my husband felt threatened."
At Wednesday's arraignment, Mazzariello glanced over to about 10 relatives and friends sitting in the courtroom audience.
The defendant appeared with deputy public defender Marcus Mumford, but Mazzariello didn't enter a plea. He asked the judge for a month to hire a private attorney.
Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Dawna Reeves scheduled Mazzariello to return to court Dec. 14 to determine whether he can hire his own attorney.
The judge set Mazzariello's bail amount at $4 million. He remained in custody Wednesday evening.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2394. Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2366.