PATTERSON — A 25-year-old man whose friends called him "Big Mike" died on a street Thursday night after someone shot him in what authorities are calling a gang-related incident.
Stanislaus County sheriff's detectives have not identified the victim, but friends of Miguel Ramirez set up a fund-raising site to solicit donations for his funeral expenses.
According to Sheriff Adam Christianson, deputies responded to a report of shots fired in the Garza Park area at 11:33 p.m. Another caller to 911 reported that someone had been shot in the 100 block of Washburn Street.
Deputies found the victim in a car with a gunshot wound to the head.
A witness said Ramirez was shot at the park, then managed to drive to Washburn, where he fell out of the car. The witness, who did not want his name published, said he had seen Ramirez earlier in the day with a gun in his pocket.
Investigators believe the shooting was gang-related. The victim's friends and family were uncooperative, Christianson said. No suspects have been identified.
"Our team takes guns off the street everyday which are used by criminals and gang members to commit crimes," the sheriff said in an email. "Yes, gang members are typically armed and law enforcement knows that, thus the reason we use the tactics we do to safely disarm them and hold them accountable for victimizing the community."
This is the fourth gang-related fatal shooting involving a Patterson resident this year. In January, Jesus Gallardo, 19, was killed at Felipe Garza Park. Eddie Hernandez, 20, died in March after being shot in south Modesto. And in April, Moises Martinez, 22, was shot to death after he opened fire at a quinceñera celebration in Modesto, authorities said.
But Christianson said the string of incidents isn't indicative of a rise in gang activity on the county's West Side.
"In fact, Chief Tori Hughes and her team do a terrific job managing public safety in Patterson and Patterson is one of the safer communities in the county," Christianson said. "We've not seen any definitive increase in criminal street gang activity in Patterson."
Christianson said he still plans to reassemble the department's gang unit, set to deploy next month, "but it's solely dependent upon our staffing levels and we're still losing well-trained, well-qualified experienced deputy sheriffs to other law enforcement agencies who offer a more competitive salary-benefits package."
The sheriff said his department also has struggled to recruit and retain qualified applicants. "We're still critically short-staffed on patrol and calls for service remain our highest priority."
One friend of Ramirez, Elijah Saldivar, said in a comment on The Bee's Facebook page that Ramirez was not in a gang. Ramirez's brother, Adrian, said on the funeral fund-raising site that Miguel Ramirez leaves a 5-year-old son.
Friends and family members could not be reached, but on social media sites, several lauded Ramirez for his loyalty and devotion to his son.
Ramirez himself seemed to be trying to turn a corner in a Facebook post from last November, in which he talked about trying to get his criminal record expunged.
" I realized its not about me anymore I need to grow up and set a good example for my son and most of all b (sic) there for him do," Ramirez wrote. " I love my son too much to loose (sic) him or more so loose me I'm the captain of my ship so I need to b here to man it I thank god for all the blessings I have and all the good people surrounding me "
Bee Senior Information and Research Specialist Karen Aiello contributed to this report.
Breaking News Editor Patty Guerra can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2343.