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Father: Raid on Petaluma house was confusing, terrifying


Victor Flores said he was in the bathroom of his Petaluma home last week getting ready for work shortly after 4 a.m. when an explosion shattered the predawn silence, followed by a scream.

He immediately thought his wife was being attacked as she returned home after working the night shift, Flores said.

In fact, dozens of federal agents had converged on their McNeil Avenue house to arrest their oldest son, also named Victor Flores, and search the rental house as part of an investigation into a 2010 triple homicide in South San Francisco.

The quiet neighborhood was awakened by loud bangs, presumably from flash-bang devices agents often use to distract a suspect as they enter a building.

Then the bullets started to fly.

When the gunfire ceased, three federal agents were wounded.

One of the family's two dogs, a boxer named Sassy, was dead.

The Flores' home was peppered with bullet holes, including one mere inches above the headboard on the bed where Flores' youngest son slept.

Flores, 57, said the May 3 raid was both confusing and terrifying.

"Nobody really knows what happened here," he said in an interview this week.

The elder Flores said he and his son Victor, 20, had no way to know the intruders were Homeland Security agents. He said the pair initially thought the family was under attack by criminals and grabbed hunting guns to defend themselves.

It is not clear who fired first.

Federal agents said they encountered "a barrage of gunfire from an assault rifle" inside the home. They have declined to answer questions about their tactics that morning or the chain of events that unfolded inside the house, including who fired the bullets that wounded the three agents.

The younger Flores, a suspected gang member also known as "Little Creeper," was among 13 suspects arrested during 11 coordinated raids around the Bay Area targeting members and supporters of a South San Francisco street gang. Six other suspects already were in custody, authorities said.

A federal indictment identified the younger Flores as one of three men suspected of shooting at a group of rival gang members on Dec. 22, 2010, killing three and wounding three others.

He faces possible execution if convicted, though the U.S. Attorney's Office has not yet determined if it will seek the death penalty.

The junior Flores is charged with a total of 16 criminal counts, including murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, racketeering and firearms violations.

He pleaded not guilty Friday.

His father and mother, Ana Flores, said they don't know how their son was implicated in the case. They said they were not only unaware of his involvement in any gang activity but believe it to be untrue.

Speaking in the wreckage of their rented home — its walls and doors riddled with bullet holes, the hallway ceiling torn open and their belongings strewn everywhere — the couple said they moved to Petaluma last fall after fleeing South San Francisco, where their younger son, now 14, had witnessed a friend being shot.

Victor Flores has been employed for 29 years at a San Bruno auto body shop, and his wife has worked a decade or more cleaning San Francisco International Airport at night.

The morning of the raid, the father said he was roused by his alarm at 4:02 a.m. as usual, turned on a hallway light and went into the bathroom to get ready for work moments before the first explosion.

Hearing what he thought was a scream, Flores said he called to his son, "Victor, somebody got your mother!" The younger man, who had been asleep in a corner bedroom a few feet away, dove across the narrow hallway to a closet where they kept a shotgun and a rifle next to a locked gun safe containing several other hunting weapons, the senior Flores said.

After arming themselves, the two crawled to an opening that connected the back hallway to the kitchen and the rest of the small house, he said.

The elder Flores was unable to provide a precise sequence of events due to the chaos and confusion of the situation and his limited English. He and his wife stopped answering follow-up questions after a neighbor advised them not to talk to the media.

He said it was his son who realized the men who had broken into their home wore police uniforms. He told his father to drop his shotgun and discarded the rifle he was using, as well, the senior Flores said.

But the hail of gunfire already was under way, and the elder Flores said he did not know if or how many times his son might have fired back.

His son begged the father to "kill me, kill me," apparently fearing what police would do, the senior Flores said.

Once they were disarmed, agents handcuffed the two men, the senior Flores said. His teenage son, who had remained in his bedroom, was also cuffed, he said.

When all three were outside, the shooting continued, he said, even though no one was left in the house.

One of the family's two dogs was shot and killed. The other had bolted and escaped, though an agent chased it with a gun, he said.

Victor Flores, moved to tears by the memory, said he begged the agents, "Don't kill my dogs!"

At some point that morning, Ana Flores returned home from work and approached a South San Francisco police detective she recognized to ask what was going on. She was quickly ordered from her car and handcuffed, she said.

The Floreses said it would have been easy for authorities to track down anyone in the family without sending dozens of heavily armed federal agents into the home before dawn.

The South San Francisco police detective knew where they'd relocated and everything else about their life, they said.

Since moving north, their son Victor has been working with a Novato painting contractor while his younger brother attended high school. Most days after work, the younger Victor rode a bike around the neighborhood to exercise Tyson, the younger of their two dogs.

He even appeared in court a week earlier and could have been arrested then, his parents said.

"I don't know why they did this to us," Ana Flores said.

Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for Homeland Security Investigations, would not address the question of the agency's approach to the arrest, except to say, "Our foremost consideration is the safety of the agents" and other people in the area.

Contacted in his office, the South San Francisco detective said he could not comment on the case.

Federal representatives otherwise declined to say what firearms they seized from the house or to discuss the shooting of the federal agents, saying it remains under investigation.

Now staying in Vallejo with family, the Floreses have been back and forth to the McNeil Avenue home, where neighbors over the weekend mowed around the young fruit trees the father had planted in half-barrels on the front lawn.

The property manager said the house will have to be gutted and renovated because of the extensive damage left by the raid, including what appear to be blood stains and burn marks on the carpet.

A new sectional sofa the family had just begun making payments for was shot through and slashed open during the search.

An irritating, acrid quality lingered in the air, perhaps from a fire ignited by a tear-gas cannister lobbed through the parents' bedroom window and onto their bed.

The Floreses said few clothes or other belongings were salvageable, and they're not sure what comes next.

"I am happy I not die," the father said.