Police ask public’s help solving Merced teen’s homicide

Merced police believe a 15-year-old homicide victim was with friends when he was shot and killed earlier this month, and investigators are asking those friends to come forward.

Luis Angel Zavaleta-Rios died May 7 in the 600 block of West Eighth Street after he was shot at least once in the upper body.

“It’s very rare for someone his age to be walking alone at night; usually teenagers are with friends. We’re positive somebody was with him that night,” Sgt. Scott Skinner said. “We’d like to hear from them and from anyone in the public who may know about this homicide.”

Police said a silver vehicle, possibly a Honda or Acura, was seen in the area the night Zavaleta-Rios was killed. Officers said they tracked down the owner of a vehicle matching that description and conducted an interview, but have made no arrests.

Skinner said police are waiting for laboratory test results to determine if that person was involved in the case. “He has not been eliminated as a possible suspect,” Skinner said.

Skinner declined to elaborate on the nature of the laboratory tests or release the man’s name, saying it could harm the investigation.

Police believe the death may have been gang related and said investigators have struggled to find cooperative witnesses. “We do feel that gangs are probably a big part of this case,” Skinner said.

He said anyone with information about the case, especially Zavaleta-Rios’ friends, should come forward and help identify the killer or killers. Skinner stressed tipsters can remain anonymous.

Five homicides have been reported in the city of Merced this year, and 10 have been reported countywide. All 10 involved firearms.

Zavaleta-Rios is the second juvenile homicide victim reported this year in Merced. Sixteen-year-old Donovan Webster was fatally shot Feb. 17 near West 20th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Police said Webster was either walking to a nearby residence or walking back to his home when he was shot.

No suspects have been arrested in Webster’s death.