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Two knives and blood found at Kawana Elementary School tell of a fight that moved across the school campus, ending with the death of one young man.

Sunday night, detectives remained at the south Santa Rosa elementary school, finishing up their analysis of the fight scene.

Juan Carlos Angel-Esparza, 20, died from at least three stab wounds to his chest, Sgt. Steve Fraga said.

No one was arrested Sunday night in what was the first homicide of the new year. But the blood was cleaned up and the yellow police tape was due to be gone by Monday morning.

That's when the school will be home again to hundreds of K-6 students — many of whom already know something bad happened there over the weekend.

The death of the young man and the connection to the school were two terrible blows, said Martha Menth, a 23-year Kawana teacher.

"Why at our school .<TH>.<TH>. where little kids come by every day?" said Menth, who teaches a fifth- and sixth-grade class. "I feel terrible."

"It upsets me. That young man had a future," said Diane Rubino, the school librarian, who also lives in the neighborhood. "Right on our campus .<TH>.<TH>."

As word of the violence reached school officials and teachers Sunday, plans were made for Monday morning.

Multiple counselors were asked to come to school, and teachers prepared for classroom talks to help students deal with any fear, grief or questions, said Menth.

Maria Arevalos, a mother of young students at the school, said her children were scared about going to class Monday.

"They're afraid because it's at the school," she said.

She said she knew they should go. "I just told them sometimes bad things happen to good people and for them not to be afraid but to be careful," Arevalos said.

Sgt. Fraga wouldn't say whether the violence involved gang members, calling it too soon in the investigation. But he said the Moraga Drive school and surrounding South Park community have been the scene recently of increasing gang activity.

"It's definitely a disputed gang area. There is a lot of fresh and continuing tagging going on in this quarter .<TH>.<TH>. gangs tagging this area, crossing out other gang tags," Fraga said.

"How this thing unfolded and its relationship to this ongoing struggle" remained unclear, he said.

A $2,500 reward was being offered for information leading to the arrest of those responsible, he said.

Officers were called to the school just after 5 p.m. Saturday about a possible shooting. They found the young man unresponsive from his wounds, later determined to be stab wounds.

The young man died shortly after being found, which was a short walk from where he lived in a nearby apartment with other family members.

The violence led to a flurry of activity in the older subdivision neighborhood, including police and ambulance response, a gathering of distraught relatives and knots of concerned neighbors brought outside by the loud wail of sirens.

The investigation lasted much of the night and again on Sunday well into the night.

At the school, officers found two knives. Fraga declined to describe them and said whether one was the murder weapon was yet to be determined.

An initial report indicated police were interviewing children who may have found the man or been witnesses. But Fraga said Sunday the two possible witnesses were young teens caught vandalizing a nearby area and weren't believed to be connected to the school crime.

Family members said "Carlos" Angel-Esparza had been hanging out at the school Saturday evening talking to friends when he was approached by assailants.

Fraga said the confrontation included at least the victim and one or two other young men, possibly more.

The weapons, as well as blood found in different locations and other evidence indicated the fighters traveled across the campus until Angel-Esparza collapsed outside of the multi-purpose room.

After the attack, the man's sister was alerted at their nearby apartment. A grieving Maria Angel on Sunday said she ran to the school and found her younger brother.

"He at least got to experience being a father with his girlfriend's son," she said.

Her brother wasn't the biological father but had so taken to the little boy, he was thoroughly enjoying time with the toddler, she said.

Maria Angel and other family members and friends were gathered at the family apartment Sunday, sometimes coming out to watch police work at the nearby school. During the afternoon they set up a memorial shrine in honor of him.

"He was a wonderful brother who took care of his sister and his nephews," said Brenda Ramirez of Santa Rosa.

Angel-Esparza lived with his sister in the Cypress Ridge apartment complex. It is separated from the school by a community garden and parking lot.

The elementary school campus and adjoining park facilities are a popular gathering spot for area residents, as well as suspected gang members up to no good, neighbors said Sunday.

Neighbors of the school, in the South Park neighborhood off of Petaluma Hill Road, indicated Sunday they weren't surprised by the violence, due to what appeared to be an increase in neighborhood gang tagging.

"I kind of expected it. We've had more and more gang activity," said one woman, who declined to give her name.

Teacher Menth said Kawana teachers work very hard to help their students, many of whom struggle with poverty and gang issues. Teachers there preach the importance of school as the way to move beyond those issues.

"You've got to come to school. Education will get you out of this," is a top message from teachers, she said.

A school marquee Sunday included that message: "Reading is the key to success."

Menth is in charge of the marquee message. Friday morning before school she found it covered in gang graffiti and cleaned it off before students arrived.

The reward money is available through the Take Back Our Community Program offered by the Sonoma County Alliance.

Fraga asked anyone with information to contact detectives at 543-3590.

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com.

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