It took 12 minutes for a panicked teenager to drive his four bleeding friends from an East Hall subdivision to a local hospital after a confrontation between rival gangs ended in gunfire early Sunday. By the time the driver reached Northeast Georgia Medical Center, one of his passengers was dead.
As family members bury 16-year-old Juan Gomez today, his friend and fellow gang member, Nagan Le, still clings to life. He remains in critical condition after a bullet fired into the 17-year-old’s abdomen damaged several organs, including his heart, according to Hall County sheriff’s officials.
Francisco Amaya, 16, had a bullet enter his torso and strike his ribs before exiting his body, and Pedro Saucedo, also 16, was shot in the hip, according to arrest warrants. Hospital officials did not release their conditions.
Authorities say the bloodshed was the consequence of gang activity.
All four shooting victims were members of the street gang La Onda 5, who ventured into
rival gang SUR-13’s territory late Saturday night in a Nissan Sentra. At the entrance to a working-class subdivision at the intersection of Harmony Church Road and Thousand Oaks Drive off Gillsville Highway, the teens in the Nissan exchanged words with three men in a Dodge Neon before multiple shots were fired from an automatic handgun.
Authorities say an occupant of the Dodge, 18-year-old Robert Jacob Montez, fired the shots. Two other occupants of the car, 18-year-old Miguel Garcia and 17-year-old Jesus Martinez, are charged in connection with the shooting. All are members of SUR-13, whose graffiti "tags" can be found in the Gillsville Highway area.
Montez, the alleged shooter, and Gomez, the murder victim, were both leaders, or "shot-callers," for their respective gangs, authorities said.
One neighborhood resident said he wasn’t surprised by the shooting.
"I was expecting anything to happen just anytime," said the man, who lives a few hundred yards from the shooting scene and declined to give his name. "You see (gang activity) all the time. You can tell the ones running up and down the road."
The resident said Hall County sheriff’s officials have saturated the neighborhood with patrols since the shooting early Sunday.
"I’m glad to see more law enforcement around," he said.
Sheriff’s officials also beefed up their presence this week at county middle schools, high schools and the Lanier Career Academy in hopes of averting any retaliatory violence, Col. Jeff Strickland said.
Montez, the alleged shooter, was last a student at Lanier Career Academy in October 2007, Hall County school officials said. Co-defendant Martinez attended the school until April 2009. Garcia, the third teen charged in the shooting, failed to enroll at East Hall High School in fall 2008.
Gomez, the murder victim, withdrew from Johnson High School in October 2008. School officials were told Gomez planned to go to Mexico to enroll in a private school, Hall County School spokesman Gordon Higgins said.
Officials have no record of the other three shooting victims having attended Hall County schools.
The murder victim’s older brother recently completed a yearlong jail sentence for gang activity, according to court records.
Roberto Gomez, 18, pleaded guilty in September 2008 to jumping a member of the PLC, or "Pure Latin Crew," and screaming "La Onda 5" repeatedly as the victim was beaten by Gomez and two others. Hall County Superior Court Judge Jason Deal sentenced Gomez to five years, with one year to serve in jail and the remainder on probation, and imposed the typical conditions to not associate with gang members. Gomez was given credit for time served since his March 2008 arrest.
Montez, the alleged shooter in Sunday’s incident, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor marijuana possession in March 2008. He was sentenced to 11 months, 28 days on probation and ordered to pay a fine of $1,000. Montez later graduated from the Georgia National Guard’s Youth Challenge Program at Fort Gordon, according to court records.
In January, Montez was charged with disorderly conduct after authorities said he was trespassing on government housing property on Davis Street with other gang members wearing matching attire. The men wore bandanas over their faces and were carrying baseball bats and other weapons, according to court records. Montez pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor in March and got 12 months’ probation, a $200 fine and was ordered to not contact or visit the homes of any known gang members.
In June, Montez was issued a citation for driving without a license.
Of the three people charged in this weekend’s shooting, two are U.S. citizens. Montez was born in California, according to court documents.
Garcia was born in Mexico and had an immigration hold placed on him after his Sunday arrest. He previously served 10 days in the Hall County jail for a probation violation following a July 4 DUI arrest, court records show. He was released from jail July 20.
The arrests in Sunday’s shooting came after much effort, Strickland said.
A team of 15 sheriff’s investigators and members of the Gainesville-Hall County Gang Task Force toiled for 12 hours to identify and arrest the suspects, he said. A search of a Barrett Road residence turned up the gun believed to be used in the killing.
Strickland said the gang task force’s ongoing work collecting intelligence on Hall County’s 300-plus known gang members paid off Sunday.
"That information played a pivotal role in the success of this investigation," Strickland said.
The resident who lives near the shooting said Tuesday that gang members seemed to be "getting braver and braver."
"They just don’t consider the law," he said. "They’ve got their own way of doing things. Regardless of who gets caught, they’re going to do their thing."