A blood-spattered section of pavement and three votive candles mark the spot where a 22-year-old man was fatally shot around 10:30 p.m. Monday at a Loughborough-area apartment complex.
Merced police say Joshua Polk was sitting and talking with friends in front of an apartment unit in the 3200 block of Meadows Avenue when a heavyset Latino man walked up behind him, yelled out a gang name and started shooting.
When police arrived at the scene, Polk was still alive. He was flown to a Modesto hospital, where he later died.
Nobody is in custody. Family members and friends of Polk say he wasn't a member of a gang, and many believe he was a random target. Witnesses told the Sun-Star there was a Latino man with the shooter, and the pair had walked by the area before the shooting happened.
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Moments later, they returned and bullets rang out.
Family members say Polk had moved to Merced only three weeks ago from Winton, where he was raised, to be closer with his fiancee. He was the father of a baby girl, with another child on the way, according to his family. "He never bothered anybody. He was a loner. For someone to come and slaughter him like a dog doesn't make any sense," said Debra Martin, the victim's cousin. "These young men are our future. It just grieves my heart to find out he was killed."
Dorothy McKinney, the victim's mother, said her son was a family-oriented young man who wasn't involved in gangs. "He was a nice kid," said McKinney, holding back tears. "I hope they find the person that did this."
Tiffany McKinney, Polk's 23-year-old cousin, said he was nicknamed "Pork-chop" because of his hearty appetite. He was also an avid basketball player. "He was just a sweet boy," McKinney said, adding she hopes the culprits turn themselves in. "I just want peace for my family."
The description of the shooter is sketchy, at best. Police say he was wearing a T-shirt and shorts.
The homicide is Merced's fourth this year and the 14th reported in Merced County.
The shooting happened a few blocks from where Michael Riley was killed in October 2008. The 29-year-old Navy veteran was shot to death in the 1100 block of Loughborough Drive, outside the Village Meadows Apartments. His killer has never been found, and the crime remains unsolved.
Police ask anyone with information to call Merced Police Lt. Jim Gurden at (209) 384-4186 or Detective Chris Russell at (209) 385-4707. You can also call the department's automated tip line at (209) 385-4725. Calls are kept confidential, and you can remain anonymous.
Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.