GUSTINE -- A 25-year-old man became the county's 10th homicide victim Tuesday, after he was stabbed outside an apartment complex in Gustine.
It is the city's first gang-related slaying in recent memory.
Pedro Flores, of Gustine, was stabbed multiple times and died around 3:30 p.m. in the apartment's parking lot in the 1500 block of South Avenue, police said.
Although no one is in custody, police said they are seeking three "persons of interest" who were present when the stabbing occurred.
Police Chief Devon Stavrowsky said they are seeking Ricardo Andrade-Valencia, 18, his brother Jorge Valencia, 19, both of Gustine, and Jose Hernandez, 18, of Los Banos.
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Flores was stabbed during an altercation between "members of rival gangs" -- although it's unknown whether Flores was an actual gang member himself, Stavrowsky said. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Investigators say they are keeping some details under wraps to protect the integrity of the case, Stavrowsky said.
Flores had been previously arrested by Gustine police for crimes involving drugs and graffiti.
Flores' death was the first homicide in Gustine since 2006 when a man killed his four young sleeping children with a hunting rifle and then killed himself.
Gang-related deaths are virtually unknown in Gustine -- a town of roughly 5,000 -- one that some people refer to as one of the county's last "Norman Rockwell towns."
Stavrowsky attributed the homicide to the rise in gang-related crimes in Merced County in recent years, saying Gustine is not immune.
"We've been anticipating something like this happening for awhile," he said.
Residents living in the South Avenue apartments where the stabbing occurred say they are concerned -- and some say they are now making plans to move.
On Wednesday, 29-year-old J.J. Purdom said he drove with his wife and 4-year-old daughter to Newman to look for a new place to live. He said they have lived in the South Avenue apartment since December.
After Tuesday's fatal stabbing, however, he said enough is enough. He said he's tired of seeing young men smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol out in the open.
Anne Everett, a 53-year-old retired nurse who lives on South Avenue, said she is worried about the effect on children. "We've got bored children with nothing to do," she said.
Police are asking anyone with information about the crime, or the whereabouts of the three persons of interest, to call (209) 854-3737.
Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.