12-year-old shot in early-morning drive-by in East Merced

The Merced County Sheriff's Office said it received a report of a drive-by shooting in the 3900 block of Celeste Avenue in east Merced around 1:15 a.m., and a 12-year-old boy was wounded.

A group of youngsters was playing in front of a house when they noticed a green four-door car with three people in it drive by slowly, according to Deputy Tom MacKenzie.

Witnesses reported hearing the people in the car yelling gang slurs, so the group of 12- and 13-year-olds went inside the house.

A few minutes later, the car turned around at the dead end of the street and drove back by the house, authorities said. One of the suspects opened fire into the residence with a large-caliber handgun, striking a 12-year-old boy in the lower back. The suspects then took off on Kibby Road in an unknown direction.

The boy was taken to a Modesto area hospital where he's listed in stable condition. Detectives are working on the assumption that the shooter believed the youngsters were rival gang members, but there's no indication that they belonged to any gang, MacKenzie said. It may have been a case of mistaken identity, he added.

The only description of the people in the car deputies have so far is that two of them were Latino and one was white. The shooter was wearing a black and white striped shirt with a black hat.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Merced County Sheriff's Office at (209) 385-7472.