Detectives have identified two of the three suspects they believe are responsible for the shooting death of a 21-year-old Riverbank man early Thursday morning, authorities said.
Daniel Pantoja, 18, of Riverbank, and Turlock Diaz, 14, of Turlock, are wanted in connection with the murder of Chaz Bettencourt, who was shot to death as he and a friend were leaving the am-pm minimarket on the corner of Oakdale and Patterson roads.
Using evidence from the scene, witness statements and surveillance footage, detectives identified the suspects and sent Stanislaus County SWAT units to search their houses Friday night.
Neither Pantoja nor the Diaz boy -- apparently named for the town where he lives -- were at their homes, where detectives continued early this morning looking for clues.
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Detectives have a “good idea” who the third suspect is, but are awaiting confirmation before releasing the name, according to deputy Andrew Winter of the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department.
Winter said both Pantoja and Diaz are believed to be armed and dangerous.
Winter said they have identified the shooter. He said one other suspect was armed but did not fire a weapon.
“It’s truly disturbing to see how these suspects attacked the victim like a pack of wolves,” said Lt. Mick Hardenbrook, who heads the sheriff’s department's homicide unit. “It’s easy to see how anybody could have fallen victim to these murderers.”
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 exited the store, they were confronted by the three suspects. A fight ensued, and when Bettencourt's friend returned to the store to have the clerk call 9-1-1, shots rang out. Bettencourt was struck multiple times.
All three suspects fled on foot, Winter said.
Winter said that while the surveillance video provided some clues, there were “other things” more instrumental to the investigation that he could not detail at this point.
The county’s Special Weapons and Tactics team arrived with search warrants on Friday night at Pantoja’s home in the 3800 block of Stanislaus Street, but only Pantoja's father was home. Nobody was at the Turlock home of the 14-year-old, who lives with his mother, Winter said.
The SWAT team was used for the search because of the possible presence of firearms at the residences.
Detectives said the incident was not gang-related, but that the suspects were affiliated with gangs.
If there are any additional witnesses who have not been contacted, call Detective Jon McQueary at 525-7099 or Crime Stoppers at 521-4636. Tipsters also can e-mail tips through the Crime Stoppers Web site, www.stancrimetips.org or text tips to CRIMES (274637) by typing "Tip704" plus a message. Callers to Crime Stoppers can remain anonymous and are eligible for a cash reward.