Detectives detained a suspect Monday in the death of a young man who was stabbed during a weekend fight at a Santa Rosa elementary school.
A gang dispute erupted Saturday on the grounds of Kawana Elementary School between Juan Carlos Angel-Esparza, 20, and another person while at least three others stood by, according to new details released by Santa Rosa police.
Angel-Esparza was stabbed several times but died from a direct stab to his heart, an autopsy determined Monday morning, Sgt. Steve Fraga said.
Gang activity has been increasing on Kawana's campus, mostly between feuding gangs claiming the Moraga Drive school as their territory, police and school officials said.
But it was unclear whether the tension that erupted into the fatal fight Saturday was sparked between rivals from opposing gangs or rivals from different subsets of one gang.
"There is much reluctance with people in the know to share," Fraga said, citing a lack of cooperation among witnesses.
"We're on a full court press on this case," said Fraga, who has added detectives to the effort.
The fight began near a baseball field on school grounds sometime shortly before 5 p.m. between Angel-Esparza, who had an established history as a local street gang member, and another young man, Fraga said.
"It started off as a physical confrontation and ended up as a stabbing," he said.
Sirens in the distance scared the young men, who fled, Fraga said.
The suspect and bystanders ran west, away from the school, and Angel-Esparza ran east through school grounds before collapsing in an outdoor corridor near the school's multipurpose room, Fraga said.
Angel-Esparza was unresponsive when he was found there.
Officers later found knives and blood on school grounds. Detectives were trying to identify fingerprints left on one of the knives, Fraga said.
"We have two knives, and I believe one was involved in the incident," he said.The other's use hasn't been confirmed.
Memorial candles, white roses and what appeared to be gang graffiti on a nearby fence were the only visible signs of the crime as K-6 students returned to class Monday morning.
Graffiti on campus had slowed for a while until a spate of recent taggings in the past month, Principal Jesse Escobedo said. Most of the tagging has involved one gang claiming the area.
Those tags get crossed out by another gang's tags, and then they get crossed out, back and forth, Fraga said.
School staffers regularly scour the campus, painting over the vandalism before kids arrive, Escobedo said.
"We don't want the kids to have to see that stuff," he said. "We deal with the reality of the neighborhood. We don't have to have it smacking them in the face in the morning."
Escobedo met with teachers before class Monday and sat down with concerned parents.
"I told them, &‘I have no doubt that during the school day the kids are safe,'<TH>" Escobedo said. "But I would caution against letting children play here on the weekends for now."
Four counselors were brought to campus Monday to help students and staff deal with the shock of the death on campus. Escobedo also fielded calls from school officials and others offering help.
"We are an oasis in the midst of a desert of poverty and violence," he said.