High school homicide: Kearns student dies in gang shooting
Kearns » Two of victim's classmates turn themselves in.
By Erin Alberty And Lindsey Whitehurst
The Salt Lake Tribune
Updated: 01/22/2009 06:52:18 AM MST
Shooting death jolts community, policymakers
A simmering gang rivalry boiled over Wednesday with the fatal shooting of a 16-year-old two blocks west of Kearns High School.
Sophomore Esteban Manuel Saidi died Wednesday night at Intermountain Medical Center of a gunshot wound to the abdomen, Salt Lake County sheriff's deputies said.
Two of the Saidi's classmates, also 16, were booked into juvenile detention. The suspected shooter, a sophomore, and his accomplice spoke with the high school safety officer and turned themselves in about an hour after the shooting. They were arrested at a nearby home. The gun was recovered in the area of the shooting.
Sheriff's deputies would not confirm for publication the suspects' identities on Wednesday night.
However, a person who identified himself as a relative of the alleged shooter said members of the Sureño gang had been harassing the shooter.
Sheriff's officials said the shooting was gang-related, but they would not name the gang affiliations of the victim or the suspected shooter. Sheriff Jim Winder said the suspected gunman and the victim were known to gang investigators before Wednesday's shootings.
Saidi was with at least two other people when he encountered the shooter and his accomplice around noon on a side street near the school, 5525 S. Cougar Lane (4840 West), said sheriff's spokesman Don Hutson. It was not clear whether there were others with the two suspects, he said.
After Saidi was shot, two of his friends brought him to the school. Another student described the victim lying on the ground.
"He was pale. He was dying. He was just laying there with a weird look in his eyes," said the student, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation.
The student said he had heard there was "supposed to be a fight" and was walking toward the scene to watch it when he saw Saidi. Hutson would not comment on the report that the noontime fight was planned. The student said he did not hear gunshots and did not know the victim. He said the school was locked down when he returned. The school reopened at 2 p.m. and will hold classes today, said district officials.
A classmate who called himself Kyle said the suspected shooter was known to have gang ties and played on the school football team.
"He is a nice kid," Kyle said. "I didn't think he would ever do anything like that."
Dillan Davis, a 17-year-old junior, said gang members make little mystery of their affiliations.
"It's not hard to tell. Everyone always wears colors," he said. "They're just kids; you can be friends with them. They're just regular."
Other students, though, spoke of long simmering tensions between rival groups of Latino and Polynesian teens.
"It's not about ethnicity, really, it's about gangs. It was really bad last year," said 16-year-old Yesenia Rangel.
At least three students were handcuffed Wednesday and detained after school for questioning. The students were involved in a fight, which may or may not, have stemmed from the shooting, said Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley.
Winder said that Kearns gangs lately have become more violent.
"Just today in our staff meeting we were discussing ... tensions in this area," he said.
Aaron Merlo , 18, and Francisco Cardenas, 17, said they have noticed the rise in violence.
"After Panda Express, and then this right here," Cardenas said, referring a gang-related shooting Saturday at a West Valley City eatery. A 15-year-old gang member was shot and critically injured after he pulled out a machete during a fistfight with members of the rival Crazy Ass Mexicans gang, according to jail documents. A 21-year-old was arrested.
"I don't like Kearns no more," Merlo said. "It used to be more peaceful."
Senior Courtney McAfee, 18, said she's frustrated with the violence.
"I just don't think people have to bring their business to school," she said.
Parent Veronica Hollestelle said she is considering home-schooling her 10th-grade son, Alex, or moving him to a different district.
"I want to get him out," she said. "I'm done with this area."
Others said they generally feel safe.
"I don't walk through the halls scared," said sophomore Sierra Reid, 16.
McKensie Rosenhan, a Kearns graduate, waited during the lockdown to get her 17-year-old sibling.
"It sucks it happened here because we get such a bad rap. It's not a bad place at all."
Alex Wiles, the Kearns High student body president, said the media have portrayed the school in the wrong light.
"We don't have a gang problem," he said, adding that he's never seen a gun at school.
Wiles said he thought students remained calm, which "shows the character of our school."
Tribune reporters Melinda Rogers, Kirsten Stewart and Jason Bergreen contributed to this story.