The Kawana Elementary School cafeteria late Thursday was filled with parents called to an emergency meeting with school, police and community leaders to address the aftermath of a violent gang dispute on school grounds that left one neighbor dead and another man charged with his killing.
In the audience, Maria Frias, 34, raised her hand and asked the question that seemed to be on the lips of every parent, teacher and neighbor in the Santa Rosa school room:
“My fear is that police will control the neighborhood for a few weeks, but the gang members know that and will stay quiet,” said Frias, mother of a fourth-grader.
“What happens during the rest of the year?”
“We are stepping up patrols,” said Sgt. Ray Navarro, who runs the Santa Rosa Police Department's gang unit. “But it's very important that if you continue to call, you will get officers here.”
Saturday's homicide was a tragic result of the rivalry that has left students, neighbors and teachers in this Santa Rosa neighborhood south of the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, in an area known as South Park, in the crossfire of gang activities.
“The problem is a lot worse,” said sixth-grade teacher Martha Menth, who has taught at Kawana for 23 years. “I hope the police department can make a clear presence. Beer bottles, cigarette butts, graffiti show up after every weekend, and it breaks my heart that the kids have to see this.”
However, Principal Jesse Escobedo reassured the 60 parents who attended that their children are safe at school. He brought about a dozen staff from the police department's community programs, the city's park and recreation department, California Youth Outreach and other groups that work with youth and address violence to the front of the room to join school officials and tell parents about their services.
Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane urged parents to call 911 when they see suspicious activity and take a proactive role in helping keep crime down.