A young woman who testified Wednesday during a murder trial in Stanislaus County Su-perior Court recalled the hard stares and hand signs some boys in a slow-moving white Chevrolet Blazer gave before one of them pulled out a gun and started firing into Oregon Park.
Nadia Orndoff said she believed the boys were Sureño gang members because one wore a blue bandana over his face and they sent a spray of gunshots into a park that was known as a hangout for rival Norteños, who favor red.
She recalled how quiet everyone became when boys in the sport utility vehicle started screaming at people in the park. She remembered seeing the shooter pull out a gun that fit in the palm of his hand. And she talked about the chaos that followed, when everyone wondered if Ernestina "Tina" DeJesus Tizoc would live or die.
Orndoff said the boys circled the airport neighborhood park once, shortly after 5 p.m. May 26, 2004, before they came to a halt and started firing.
"One of them pulled out a gun and started shooting at us," said Orndoff, who was 15 at the time. "And I told my friend to drop."
A bullet pierced 17-year-old Tizoc's heart. Her alleged killers were minors at the time of the shooting, but they are being tried as adults.
Rigoberto Moreno, 20, and Pedro Castillo, 19, both of Mo- desto, are on trial, facing murder, conspiracy and gang charges. Two other men, ac- cused shooter Edgar Barajas, 20, of Modesto and alleged driver Jesus Rodriguez, 29, of Patterson will be tried separately.
A fifth man, Mario Garcia, 20, of Modesto is expected to receive a plea deal after he testifies against the others.
Authorities say they believe the young men were angry because the back passenger window of the Blazer had been broken by rival Norteños the night before, when the SUV was parked on Thrasher Avenue, which runs parallel to the park.
Gang tensions also were high because some Norteños had broken the wrist of a Sureño who lived near the park and was a friend of the defendants. Authorities say they believe the shooting was an act of retaliation, with the Sureños opening fire because they saw red in the distance.
Orndoff said the only person in the park wearing red was Tizoc, who was not a Norteño gang member.
Acceleration cited in shooting
During his opening statement, Castillo's attorney, Stephen Foley, said Barajas wanted to scare his Norteño rivals by firing into the air over the park. He said Barajas hit Tizoc because Rodriguez accidentally accelerated, causing Barajas to lose his balance and lower his rifle.
Foley said Castillo associated with Sureños, but was not a gang member and had no idea Barajas was going to shoot into the park. Defense attorney Martin Baker, who represents Moreno, said he will give an opening statement after Deputy District Attorney Thomas Brennan presents his evidence.
Orndoff was the first witness to testify in a trial that is ex- pected to stretch over four to five weeks. She said she hung out in the park every day after school and saw Tizoc there one or two other times.
She said Tizoc was among a handful of young people who were sitting on a table under a gazebo, watching some boys play basketball. She said some of the basketball players were Norteño gang members, adding that the boys left the park before the shooting began.
Orndoff said Tizoc's mother came running to the park shortly after the shooting, and screamed "my only daughter" in Spanish, over and over again.
She said she stopped going to the park after Tizoc died.
"It didn't feel safe anymore."
Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2338.