Police follow tips in toddler shooting

Investigators have less luck filling in the details in death of 14-year-old

04/28/2008 3:05 AM

04/28/2008 12:23 PM

No one was home Sunday at the west Modesto duplex where a toddler was shot Friday evening while playing in his front yard. A yellow note from a church group had been slipped into the bars of the home's security door: "Just want to let you know that we're praying for you guys and that you're in our hearts."

The 22-month-old boy, Josue Becerra, was in good condition today at a Bay Area hospital after being shot in his kidney and liver. The hospital would not say if he was still in intensive care.

Several neighbors near the cream-colored duplex with dark red trim would not talk about the shooting, saying they feared they would be targeted by gang members if they spoke to the media or the police.

Josue was hit about 7:30 p.m. in front of his home in the 200 block of H Street. Police said Sunday they had not determined if the shooting was gang-related. His home and family likely were not the intended target, they added. A man in his 20s, with a ponytail hanging past his waist and wearing a red sweater, was walking past the Becerra home just before the shooting.

At the same time, a dark compact car with a sunroof, possibly a Honda, drove by. As it did, the passenger fired through the sunroof in the direction of the house. Investigators have said they don't know whether the shot was intended for the man with the ponytail or someone else.

Police have received multiple tips and leads about this case, said Sgt. Craig Gundlach, Modesto Police Department spokesman.

But details about a second shooting 2½ hours later, which left a 14-year-old boy dead and a 15-year-old injured, have not been as forthcoming.

"Nobody wants to come forward and take a stand against that type of act," Gundlach said. "We know that there are dozens of people out there right now who know who the shooter is, who the driver is, where they're at right now. Our community should not stand for that."

The slain boy's friend, who lived in Modesto, was treated and released from a hospital Saturday night, Gundlach said.

Dozens of police officers and detectives have worked nonstop since the first shooting Friday night, Gundlach said. After taping off both crime scenes and looking for evidence, many were up until 5 or 6 a.m. Saturday. After a short break, officers were back to work before noon.

Police say the second shooting appears gang-related. They are trying to find out if it was in retaliation for the shooting of the toddler earlier Friday.

"It's a distinct possibility that has not been eliminated," said Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden on Sunday.

People who live on Rock Pine Court said the street has seen many shootings over the years. The cul-de-sac, they said, is a pocket of Sureno territory in the midst of an area that is largely claimed by Nortenos.

The Bee has not identified these neighbors for their protection.

Neighbors who were home when the shooting happened said they heard the two teenage boys screaming as they went down the street. People in a car chasing them yelled, "Norte" and "14," terms that signify affiliation with the Nortenos.

The boys ran up to a yellow home and pounded on the door.

"The one that died was knocking, yelling 'Let us in, let us in,' all crazy," said one witness. The homeowner didn't know the boys, so he didn't open the door, the witness added.

Valdimar Rojas Jr. died in front of the yellow home. In the front yard, the thick stems of calla lilies had been crushed beneath his weight. Bullet holes marked a front window and the metal security door. No one was home Sunday.

Neighbors said Valdimar was visiting from San Jose. The boy's father lives in Modesto, said police, who described both teenagers as gang members.

Police talked to gang members in the area Saturday and carried out probation and parole checks to try to learn more about what happened. Members of the Central Valley Gang Impact Task Force pored through databases to try to find gang members with cars similar to those in Friday's shootings. Investigators worked until midnight, then were back in the office by 9 a.m. Sunday, Gundlach said.

"It means lots of long hours and a lot of glassy-eyed detectives trying to keep everything together," he said. "When the tips are flowing in, we have to continue going strong and working."

Police ask anyone with information about the shootings to call Detective Jon Evers at 572-9534 or CrimeStoppers at 521-4636. Callers to CrimeStoppers can remain anonymous and may receive a cash reward.

Bee staff writer Emilie Raguso can be reached at eraguso@modbee.com or 578-2235.

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