On his mother's advice, Carlito Montoya moved to Sacramento just three months ago. He moved in with friends and started classes at a truck-driving school.
His mother, Sandra Montez, said she wanted him out of Oakland, where he was born and raised. She said the gang lifestyle was so pervasive there, the influences so strong, that he needed to get away.
"Out here in Oakland, it's like Norteños and Sureños, and I didn't want my son in that life," Montez said, referring to warring Latino gangs. "I wanted him to change his life and not be around people who are negative."
Moving to Sacramento, she thought, would be a fresh start. Then came this week's phone call: Montoya, 22, had been arrested after a barroom shootout that left two men dead, three people injured and prompted police to shut down New Year's Eve festivities in Old Sacramento.
Montoya himself was in a hospital, shot by a security guard who Sacramento police say was trying to protect the barroom patrons.
"I broke down crying," Montez, 42, said by phone from Oakland. "I talked to Carlito the other day. I told him, 'Be safe.' It was New Year's Eve."
Detectives say Montoya was at the Sports Corner Cafe in Old Sacramento about 9:40 p.m. when he got into an argument with a couple he did not know. The argument escalated into a physical fight, and when a Sports Corner employee tried to break in, police allege, Montoya pulled out a handgun and started shooting.
The security guard exchanged fire with Montoya as he tried to flee, according to police. The streets outside were filled with New Year's Eve revelers and a large contingent of police officers keeping watch over the crowds. Police grabbed Montoya almost as soon as he exited the bar.
Killed in the melee were Gabriel Cordova, 35, a father of three; and Daniel Ferrier, 36, an Iraq war vet who worked at the bar and tried to intervene. Cordova's wife, Christina, who is 30, was injured, as were the security guard, Stephen Walton, and Montoya.
Police spokesman Officer Doug Morse said Thursday that the initial argument appeared to be over a spilled drink.
Morse also said the gun allegedly used by Montoya had been reported stolen in a neighboring jurisdiction in 2010. He did not say how that gun came into Montoya's possession.
Montoya has no documented criminal history in California. His Facebook page, which he did not appear to update often, indicates he attended Livermore High School, though his mom said he has spent most of his life in Oakland. His profile picture is a cartoon drawing of two men in a lowrider convertible, guns drawn, money strewn about and a "Welcome to Oakland" sign in the background.
Montez said she never knew her son to carry a gun and that the allegations came as a shock. She described him as a "bright person" who mostly stayed close to his large family – he has six brothers and a sister. Still, she said, she had worried about his association with friends she felt were bad influences, pulling him toward the street life. She encouraged him to leave the area and get a job. She felt good when he did.
Weeping, Montez expressed sympathy for the victims in the shooting, saying, "I can't take back what happened." But she said the violence is not characteristic of her son.
"He's a good person. I love my son," she said. "Everybody makes mistakes. My son – something must have happened."
Efforts by The Bee to reach those injured in the shooting have been unsuccessful. A woman who answered the phone in Walton's room at UC Davis Medical Center said he was trying to rest and did not want to talk to the media. It's unclear where Christina Cordova is being treated, and her family said Thursday they did not know when she would come home.
Montoya is in police custody while being treated for gunshot wounds at an undisclosed hospital – his mother said even she doesn't know which one. Police say that upon his release, he is likely to face charges of murder and attempted murder.