Police searching for gang member in Modesto killing

Police on Thursday identified a gang member suspected of killing a 51-year-old man who was walking his dog and wounding a second man early Tuesday in Modesto's airport neighborhood.

Detectives believe Maurilio Vasquez, 23, of Modesto, shot and killed Clarence "Buddy" Mason, who was walking with his dog and a 29-year-old man about 2:30 a.m. near Kerr and Larkin avenues, said Sgt. Craig Gundlach, a Modesto police spokesman.

Mason was shot in the back and pronounced dead at the scene. The other man suffered a nonlife-threatening gunshot wound to the leg, according to police. His name was not released.

Neither victim was involved with gangs. Vasquez, however, is a gang member, Gundlach said.

He said police homicide detectives began investigating and searching for leads, while the department's Street Crimes Unit, Narcotic Enforcement Team, the Central Valley Gang Impact Task Force and the Stanislaus County district attorney's office began contacting gang members and gathering information about the case.

It was information gathered during these operations and from numerous contacts with members of Vasquez's gang that detectives were able to identify a suspect.

"The gang members are talking about it because they know the community is angry," said Sgt. Scott Heller, who supervises the Crimes Against Persons Unit. "Everybody in the airport neighborhood knew and loved Mason. They're all mad, and the gang members know it. They are trying to distance themselves from Vasquez, and they are feeling the eyes of the community on them."

Gundlach said investigators have searched for Vasquez and believe he is hiding, likely moving from one house to the next, trying to find friends to help him evade capture. He said Vasquez is originally from Mexico and may have fled there.

Investigators have been in contact with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency to help find Vasquez.

"Gang members rarely carry out an attack like this on their own," Heller said. "There are most likely others who were involved in the planning or perhaps helped Vasquez after the fact. This is all part of the investigation and there is still a lot left to do."

Meanwhile, the investigation into two other recent shootings continued Thursday. No arrests have been made.

Stray gunfire on April 25 struck 22-month-old Josue Becerra as he played in front of his west Modesto home, according to police. The toddler was listed in good condition this week at Children's Hospital and Research Center Oakland, hospital spokeswoman Diana Yee said.

A few hours after the toddler's shooting, 14-year-old Valdemar Rojas Jr. and his 15-year-old friend were riding their bicycles along Marlow Street, just north of Robertson Road, when a white sedan pulled up alongside and the occupants opened fire, according to Modesto police. Rojas was fatally wounded.

Modesto police asked anyone with information on Vasquez's whereabouts to call Detective Phil Owen at 572-9589 or CrimeStoppers at 521-4636. Callers to Crime Stoppers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at or 578-2394.