As prosecutors prepared Tuesday to charge a 19-year-old man with murder in the stabbing death of a young man on school grounds, Santa Rosa's police chief on Tuesday had a message for the community, which had been warned by the principal to stay away from the school after hours:
"I believe overall the city is safe because I don't believe this was a random act," Chief Tom Schwedhelm said. "I use school facilities. I live close to an elementary school. They are safe places."
"It's shocking to have this kind of activity anywhere, but school is a symbol of education and learning and (the killing) conflicts with that," he said.
A day earlier Jesse Escobedo, principal of Kawana Elementary School in the South Park area of the city, said he had met with concerned parents and told them that children were safe during the school day. "But I would caution against letting children play here on the weekends for now," he said.
Schwedhelm said that his officers, confident that they had solid evidence against Raul Vega, who was arrested late Monday on suspicion of murder, had turned to preventing retaliation connected to the fatal gang dispute.
Fresh paint on Tuesday covered graffiti that had been scrawled on fences and walls at Kawana School on Moraga Drive. Two uniformed motorcycle officers were posted in front of the campus as the school bell rang, the doors swung open and a stream of children with backpacks, pigtails and smiles ran outside to meet their parents.
Reina Estrada, 30, walked to her son, a first-grader who bounded out of a door and grabbed her hand.
"I'm just trying to understand, is it going to be safe for the kids?" the legal assistant said.
Estrada voiced the question that echoed throughout the community after the violent fight erupted on the school baseball diamond Saturday evening, leaving neighborhood resident Juan Carlos Angel-Esparza dead.
"It's nice that they're making a presence but, with all due respect, we need their presence after school hours," Escobedo said.
When the Bellevue School District K-6 campus is not in session, its property has been the stomping grounds for members of a gang who feel the area is their turf, Sgt. Steve Fraga said.
That claim is being challenged by a rival subset of the gang, he said. Angel-Esparza, 20, and Vega stood on opposite ends of that dispute, Fraga said.
Fraga declined to name the gang, but others described the neighborhood as prime turf of the sure?s gang.
The men confronted each other at about 5 p.m. Saturday as at least two of Angel-Esparza's friends and a friend of Vega stood by, Fraga said.
"We believe, at some point during the fight, they both produced knives," Fraga said.
Angel-Esparza was stabbed several times and died from a wound to the heart, according to coroner's officials, he said, and Vega appeared to have a small knife wound on his hand.
Vega's arrest also included allegations of being a gang member and acting to benefit a street gang, according to court records. He'll appear in court Wednesday.
Vega's court record shows a November conviction for driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.05 percent as a minor.
As students filed out of school Tuesday, a group of young men gathered around an impromptu memorial shrine across the street. Next to the candles and white roses were fried chicken, a chicken sandwich and barbecue sauce, some of Angel-Esparza's favorite foods, they said.