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.
"You are the owners of your neighborhood, not the gangs," Zane said.
Escobedo sent notice home to parents after a Saturday evening fight broke out between two young men over a gang dispute on the school's baseball field.
Juan Carlos Angel-Esparza, 20, was stabbed several times and later died from his injuries, police said.
Prosecutors Thursday charged Raul Vega, 19, of Santa Rosa with his murder. Vega is also accused of being the shooter in a high profile January 2010 slaying on a Contra Costa County highway. In that case, Vega allegedly fired fatal shots at a bass guitarist for hip-hop singer Lauryn Hill, who he mistook as a rival gang member, the CHP said.
Angel-Esparza and Vega belonged to rival subsets of a gang, police said. One group claims the school as their turf and another group has been challenging that claim.
Gangs will continue to lure youth, Navarro said. It's up to the community to help the police department stop violence from escalating, he said.
During the meeting a parent raised her hand and asked if they will be reported to immigration officials if they call the police about an issue in their neighborhood.
"We are not going to report you to immigration," Navarro said.
Between 65 and 70 percent of Kawana's 655 students are English language learners and 97 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch.
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