It started as one boy’s 17th birthday party the night before Easter, morphed into a large gathering with dozens of kids – mostly Buhach High School students – and ended in separate hails of gunfire that left three teenagers dead and two others injured.
According to a 108-page report filed by Merced County sheriff’s detectives, the party that claimed the lives of Samantha Parreira, 16; Bernabed Hernandez-Canela, 18; and Matthew Fisher, 19; apparently started as a smaller backyard barbecue for friends and family.
There was a DJ playing music, kids dancing and playing beer pong, a popular drinking game at parties. The party grew through text messages and social media, eventually attracting more than 100 people to the peach-colored home on Westside Boulevard.
Some time after 10 p.m. on March 30, 2013, the party took a deadly turn when several “gangsters” showed up carrying guns, the report says.
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One witness later told investigators, “... it was crazy to see people die right in front of his eyes,” the report says.
Some witnesses reported seeing a dark-colored van driving past the house several times, and some reported hearing people in the van shouting out the name of an Atwater street gang, according to the report, filed in Merced Superior Court.
A short time later, two men, described as young Latinos, got out of the van and talked their way into the party. One was wearing a gray T-shirt, the other wore a white Raiders’ football jersey.
Witnesses told investigators that Fisher and Parreira were sitting together on a bench in the backyard. Parreira may have been sitting on Fisher’s knee, several witnesses told deputies, when the two Latinos approached Fisher, the report says.
The music was loud and people couldn’t hear exactly what was said. Some said the man in the football jersey was “throwing gang signs” at Fisher. One man described Fisher’s demeanor during the exchange as “casual,” but said Parreira appeared “uneasy” and began to “wiggle around,” the report says.
Moments later, witnesses said, the man in the football jersey, pulled a handgun from his waist and opened fire at Fisher. Parreira screamed and she and Fisher fell forward clutching their chests. The man with the gun stopped firing for a moment before he fired again, this time, witnesses said, at “almost point-blank” range, according to the report.
Some witness said they first believed they were hearing “fireworks” but quickly realized the danger.
The report describes a chaotic scene, with people scrambling to get away, kids running into one another, hiding behind cars, jumping over fences, climbing into moving vehicles and running into a nearby orchard for cover.
At the same time, fleeing witnesses heard additional gunfire, but from farther away, maybe about 100 yards from the house, the report says. Others said they saw the gunfire coming from a dark-colored hatchback vehicle, speeding down Westside Boulevard, shooting at the home.
When the shooting ended, Fisher was found in the backyard, suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. His brother Marcus Fisher was holding him, crying and wouldn’t let anyone touch his brother. Marcus Fisher would be gunned down less than a year later during a New Year’s party in Merced.
Hernandez-Canela, whose friends called him “Berna,” was found about 100 yards from the home on the shoulder of the roadway. He had been shot multiple times. He was rushed to a Turlock hospital where he died a short time later, the report says.
Parreira was taken to a Merced hospital and later rushed to Doctors Medical Center in Modesto where she underwent emergency surgery and later died, the report says.
Investigators struggled to find cooperating witnesses over the roughly 16-month investigation. Eventually they put a case together naming Jose L. Botello as the shooter, responsible for the deaths of Fisher and Parreira.
Botello, 19, of Atwater, had been photographed wearing a Raiders’ jersey identical to the one believed to have been worn by the shooter, the report says.
Botello denied any involvement when questioned by investigators and has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Jose M. Carballido, also 19, of Atwater, was allegedly next to Botello when the shooting started. He too denied any involvement when questioned, the report says.
Detectives believe Hernandez-Canela was shot and killed during the drive-by, which was apparently separate from the shooting in the backyard but at nearly the same time.
Jacob Tellez, 18, of Merced, also known as Jacob Logan, was booked into jail July 22, and charged with the death of Hernandez-Canela. He too denied any involvement in the death when questioned by authorities, the report says.
Ethan B. Morse, 18, son of District Attorney Larry D. Morse II, has been charged with being the driver in the shooting of Hernandez-Canela. The report filed in court makes only one mention of someone named Ethan attending the party but does not provide any last name.
The report also does not mention any connection between the incident and Morse. How investigators linked Morse to the crime remains unclear.