At least three people, including child, shot in west Santa Rosa

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At least three people, including a child, were shot Wednesday evening when a gunman opened fire during an argument and sent bullets flying into a crowded soccer field in west Santa Rosa.

Several hundred people were gathered for youth soccer practice and adult scrimmages at Jacobs Park off West Ninth Street when gunfire broke out around 7:35 p.m., according to police and witnesses.

Detectives believe the shooting was a targeted, gang-related incident, Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Jeneane Kucker said in a statement.

The confrontation began when two people in a dark- colored SUV exchanged words with a man at the park, according to two witnesses who spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing gang reprisals. The man followed the car on foot as it drove away, witnesses said. The car turned around near the intersection of West Ninth Street and Link Lane, where the passenger stepped out and fired six to eight shots toward the crowd, sending bystanders ducking for cover behind a row of cars parked along the street.

One man said he took cover behind a blue pickup and barely avoided being hit.

“Have you seen action movies where the bullets pass by close? It was like that,” said the man, who asked not be named for fear of gang reprisals.

A teen who had been playing soccer on the field, who also asked not to be named, said he heard someone in the SUV ask a man “is this your block?” before driving down the street. He said he anticipated a fight would ensue when the man followed the car, but it did not occur to him that anyone would start shooting. The teen ran for cover when he heard the shots.

“All I had in my head was just hide,” he said.

Stray bullets struck a 40-year-old coach with the Black Oaks Soccer Club and a 10-year-old boy who had just finished practice, said Francisco Vallejo, president of the club, who left the park shortly before the shooting. Both were about 30 feet away from the gunman and were not involved in the confrontation, he said.

Both are expected to survive, police said.

The man who followed the car suffered life-threatening injuries in the shooting, police said. The man, identified by police only as a 20-year-old male, was not affiliated with the soccer club, Vallejo said.

Police withheld the victims’ names because of the violent nature of the crime and the ongoing investigation.

No arrests were made Wednesday, police said. Officers were working through a large number of interviews in the park and alerted law enforcement agencies across the county to look for the suspects’ vehicle.

Kucker said police were not doing a dragnet-style search through the city, instead following up leads to try to identify the suspects.

“Because obviously it’s gang-related, it basically comes down to intelligence gathering, and our gang detectives are very good at that,” she said.

A reward of up to $2,500 was offered for information leading to the arrest of the suspect or suspects involved in the shooting. Police encouraged anyone with information to call the Gang Crimes Team at 707-543-3670.

The park, near Lincoln Elementary School, is a popular site for evening recreational use, including soccer practice.

The Black Oaks Soccer Club, which has about 300 kids, holds practices six nights a week at the park but has requested alternative locations from the city because of concerns about safety, Vallejo said.

“We’ve been having issues every time … gangs, drugs, alcohol,” he said. “We have asked the city for other fields. This is not safe.”

The West Ninth Street neighborhood has struggled with gang crime and violence over the years.

Last year, a man in his mid-20s was seriously injured after he was stabbed at Jacobs Park.

In 2016, gunfire between people in two cars on West Ninth Street across from Lincoln Elementary School injured a 20-year-old man. Officers did not know if the victim was a gang member, but police said the incident appeared to be gang-related.

A year prior to that shooting, five gang members, including two teens, were arrested when officers found them carrying a loaded .45-caliber revolver at the park.

Authorities flagged the area as the home turf for more than 300 gang members with the Puro Sureño Cholos, a criminal street gang, in 2014, the same year that students at Lincoln Elementary found a gun hidden under a building. Gang members may have put the weapon there, police said.

You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Beale at 707-521-5205 or andrew.beale@pressdemocrat.com.

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