Alleged Mall Shooters Have Local Ties
The two teenagers arrested for the alleged shooting of two people inside the Fashion Place mall on Sunday have ties to Summit and Wasatch County - and both are known members of gangs. KPCW’s Leslie Thatcher has more.
19 year old Jorge Luis Crecencio-Gonzales is facing two first degree felonies of aggravated murder and two third degree felonies for discharging a firearm. According to Murray City Police Public information officer, Kenny Bass, Gonzales’ last known address was in Kamas.
A Park City teacher confirmes to KPCW that Gonzales was a student at Treasure Mountain Junior High School and the high school learning center. School district spokeswoman Melinda Colton confirmed that Gonzales graduated in 2017. Gonzalez allegedly drove the vehicle to flee the scene of the mall shootings.
Bass also confirmed that 19 year old Jesus Payan-Mendoza lives in Heber City. He too is facing first degree felonies of aggravated murder and felonies for discharging a firearm. Wasatch School District spokeswoman Kirsta Albert says Mendoza attended Wasatch High School but didn’t graduate.
According to the Affidavits of Probable Cause both teens are known and identified as gang members. Mendoza goes by the gang moniker of Psycho.
Bass says everyone involved in the shooting was a member of one gang or another.
The director of the Salt Lake Area Gang Unit Lt. Mike Schoenfeld told KPCW they don’t mention the names of local gangs – rather they identify them using the nation-wide umbrella organizations determined by location. That’s done he says because gang members are looking for notoriety and naming a local gang, issues a challenge to the rival gang. He confirmed Mendoza and Gonzales are part of the national gang he refers to as the “Surenos. And the two who were shot are members of their biggest rival gang he refers to as the “Nortenos."
"And these terms come from way back in the fifties, sixties, when these gangs were forming and they formed their alliance with the Mexican mafia and Nuerstra Familia. But the Surenos are the southerners. They’re the foot soldiers for the Mexican mafia. They’re the street gangs. Nortenas are northeners and everything north of Bakersfield. And generally those two, that’s why they use different numbers and different letters and different colors is because they come from two different parts of California and they’re rivals."
The rivalry is strong he says - they just don’t like each other.
"This particular case it just happens to be that one group sees the other group, recognize that they’re rivals and some challenges are issued. This is not over about turf or drugs or money or anything other than I recognize you as a group of Nortenas, you recognize me as a group of Surenos, we should go outside and fight. The challenges are accepted, but on their way out the building someone decides “I’m going to shoot them” and someone on the other side pulls out a gun and decides to shoot back."
With both of these gang members local kids, we asked how prevalent the gang numbers are. Schoenfeld couldn’t say how many gang members are located along the Wasatch Back. He says they’ve documented between 3,500 and 5,000 gang members in the Salt Lake County area - with more in Ogden, Provo and the Wasatch Back.
The gang unit works pretty closely with Park City and Summit County law enforcement. Local law enforcement officers he says participate on the task force and share intelligence of local gang activity.
"We’re the Metro gang unit for Salt Lake County but we’re very good regional partners with our surrounding agencies because these guys don’t care about the county line. They’re going to travel up there, they’re going to live up there. They’re going to gang bang down here or they’re going to gang bang somewhere else. We have to communicate with each other."
Schoenfeld doesn’t believe the general public is in danger from gangs – unless they get in the middle of a fight. Rival gang members are more interested in hurting each other. When something escalates, instead of turning on your camera, he says, call the police.
"The gang members are not out targeting the general public. They’re not looking for that kind of attention. They are not looking to go to the mall and cause problems with a family. They’re not looking to go to a mall and commit a shooting just to do it. They’re looking for rival gang members. Now, once they see those rival gang members, like I said, those challenges are issued back and forth. When they’re accepted violence can erupt. People just need to be aware that most of us are able to look at a couple of people, or two groups of people and be able to tell that there’s a conflict going on between them. The unfortunate thing is that now a days we want to grab our cellphone and videotape the thing. And it may not just turn into a fist fight that you thought was really cool and now you can post it on your social media. It might turn into a shooting."
Lt. Mike Schoenfeld, the Director of the Salt Lake Area Gang Unit. One male and one female victim suffered injuries in the shooting. The male is in stable condition at Intermountain Medical Center. The female was treated and released.
Formal charges against the alleged shooters haven’t been filed.