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Mystery surrounds shooting

Very few details have emerged concerning the Friday shooting deaths of two Merced men in the driveway of an east Merced home. There are no suspects and the motivation for the early-evening shooting of four people remains unknown.

Cmdr. Floyd Higdon of the Merced Police Department said a 20-year-old man died at 11:15 p.m. Friday and a 23-year-old man died at 12:45 a.m. Saturday at the Community Campus of Mercy Medical Center Merced. Both were shot multiple times by one or two suspects.

Higdon declined to identify the murder victims, saying their identities may be released today by the Merced County Coroner's Office.

Two other men, ages 21 and 22, received nonlife-threatening wounds in the 8:31 p.m. shooting at 2805 Green St., at the corner of East 27th Street.

Merced Police Chief Russ Thomas called the slayings extremely sad and tragic.

"It's a random act of violence that you can't predict or prevent," Thomas said. He said he's not sure what the link is between the shooter and the victims but suspected there must be some connection.

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Police interviewed the other two shooting victims Friday night but information was limited. A gang connection has neither been confirmed nor denied, Higdon said.

All four shooting victims are brothers or cousins, the commander said.

He declined to identify the weapon used but said it is at least a semiautomatic handgun.

"We are continuing to look at everything we can," Higdon said. "There was not a lot of initial information. The entire detective division is working on it. We are following every lead. The shooters were gone in a matter of seconds." Detective Chris Russell is the lead investigator in the case.

When contacted early Sunday night by the Merced Sun-Star, occupants of the house where the shooting occurred declined comment. A compact Honda sedan parked in the driveway had several bullet holes in the front fenders.

Higdon said all four shooting victims were taken by ambulance to the Merced hospital. One man was airlifted to a Modesto hospital and the fourth victim was treated locally.

Based upon initial information, the four victims were sitting in the driveway talking. One or two unknown suspects approached the location on foot from the west, walked up to the driveway and started firing, striking the four victims. No words were exchanged between the suspects and the victims. The suspects then fled the scene.

Higdon said it has not yet been determined whether this shooting is gang-related, but this aspect is being investigated.

Sgt. Curt Gorman, supervisor of the department's Gang Violence Suppression Unit, said for the most part the neighborhood is fairly quiet and nothing out of the ordinary takes place there.

Detectives are asking anyone with any information about the shooting to contact Detective Sgt. Scott Skinner at 385-4702, or the Merced Police Department Tipster Line at 385-4725.

The two men are the second and third murder victims of the year. Rudolfo Hernandez, 27 of Merced died about 2 a.m. New Year's Day when he was shot at a house at 1630 Almond Ave. He was pronounced dead at Mercy Medical Center Merced.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2485 or Local news editor Mike Tharp contributed to this report.

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