Violence has claimed the lives of 114 teens in Sacramento County since 2007, with a higher murder rate than state and national averages for this age group. Nearly all were killed by guns, about 40 percent are unsolved, and all leave families desperately clinging to memories of lost children and dreams of what lives they may have led.



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June 22, 2017 10:00 AM

Jackie Diaz kneeled near a statue of the patron saint of adolescents, whispered to her son’s grave and gently rubbed the gravestone as if comforting her child. She does this nearly every day, bringing fertilizer and fresh water so the grass around Isaiah Diaz’s grave stays green.

Here, at St. Mary’s Cemetery in south Sacramento, she is quiet and angry and focused, especially on this day – Oct. 3, 2016 – one year after someone shot her 16-year-old son in his grandmother’s driveway and escaped into the night.

“They’re out there on holidays eating and being with their families,” she said, thinking of Isaiah’s killer. “But this is what our holidays are.”

Isaiah Diaz, a sophomore at American Legion High School, spent his last night eating Milky Way candy bars with his family and died of a gunshot wound to his pelvis after being driven to the hospital in a friend’s car.

Four weeks earlier, Zai Wu, 18, was playing video games in his Lemon Hill bedroom when a fight erupted outside. A stray bullet struck Wu in the head, killing him.

And nearly six weeks later, on Nov. 13, popular Grant High School football player Jaulon “J.J.” Clavo was shot and killed while riding in a car a few hours before a game. The mayor and hundreds of mourners attended his funeral.

All told, 114 teenagers died violently in Sacramento County since the beginning of 2007. The bloodshed claimed honor roll students and street gang soldiers, young fathers and children of immigrants.

Young people in Sacramento between the ages of 15 and 19 are twice as likely to be killed in homicides as the general population, and the teen murder rate here is higher than both the state and federal averages, according to an analysis of Sacramento Coroner’s Office records obtained by The Bee through the state’s Public Records Act.

The Bee analysis showed more teens were killed by gunshot wounds to the head than by any other means, and guns were used to kill teenagers here at a significantly higher rate than the national average.

The victims’ last hours were spent at house parties in Rancho Cordova, walking to school in Valley Hi and sitting in the garage of a relative’s home in North Natomas. Seven teenagers have been killed in the past three months, including a 17-year-old boy shot while trying to calm an argument over a song and two brothers gunned down in the middle of the day along bustling Fruitridge Road.

A teen died violently in 37 Sacramento ZIP codes and in every incorporated city in the county except tiny Isleton. The victims lived in Elk Grove, Citrus Heights and Folsom. Many more came from Del Paso Heights, Oak Park, North Highlands and Meadowview.

Police here solve a large majority of the homicides they investigate. Yet despite the public outrage and confusion that often follow a young person’s violent death, 42 teen murders since 2007 remain unsolved, according to a review of cases investigated by Sacramento County law enforcement agencies. Detectives in California’s other big counties have similar – or worse – rates of finding who killed teens.

You can chart the arrest rates by skin color. For Latino victims like Isaiah Diaz, slightly more than half the cases over the last 10 years were “cleared,” meaning police arrested a suspect, authorities ruled the killing was justified or in self-defense, or prosecutors determined there was insufficient evidence to obtain a conviction. Nearly three-quarters of cases involving white victims and 67 percent of those with black victims were cleared, according to The Bee’s review of cases investigated by Sacramento County law enforcement agencies.

Officials say Sacramento’s gang culture presents a constant challenge in solving teen cases because it places a premium on street loyalty – and scorns cooperation with law enforcement. The Sacramento Sheriff’s Department said roughly half of its 22 unsolved teen cases over the past decade were connected to the gang lifestyle. Witnesses in those cases were often reluctant to cooperate out of fear of retribution, although that kind of street justice rarely occurs, authorities said.

“I understand that fear – I do – and I’ll ask (witnesses), ‘What are you afraid of?’ because I don’t want to be presumptuous,” said Sacramento sheriff’s Sgt. Tony Turnbull, a former homicide investigator who is now the department’s spokesman. “But it comes down to integrity. I tell them, ‘Put yourself in the shoes of that victim’s mother or brother.’ 

Some of the toughest homicide cases had dozens of witnesses. In at least eight unsolved cases, teens were killed at large house parties, according to media reports and information released by police. Those parties grew out of hand, often fueled by social media posts attracting unwanted guests carrying guns. Multiple witnesses led detectives down fruitless paths, chasing nothing more than a suspect’s first name or where he went to elementary school.

And time is not an ally to a detective working a murder. For the Diaz family and many others, hope fades that an arrest will be made after the first 72-hour window, when detectives devote every waking hour to interviewing witnesses and searching for evidence. After that, key elements – cellphones, cars, weapons, blood-stained clothes – disappear.

TEEN HOMICIDES

The 114 homicides of teenagers in Sacramento County since the start of 2007:

“As a detective, you feel like a failure when you’re not able to solve a case,” said Sacramento police Sgt. Bryce Heinlein, another former homicide investigator. “Not only because the family doesn’t have closure, but because you don’t want there to be another victim.”

The parents left behind say their greatest fear is that their children will be forgotten. They become convinced the police will move on to the next case, that their son or daughter’s killers will remain free to spend holidays with their families. As the months and years pass, parents begin to express a sense of isolation, a feeling that everyone else has moved on while they remain trapped in their grief.

Harley Bonacci, 15, was shot in the head by an unknown assailant while riding in a car with friends in a tough North Sacramento neighborhood more than two years ago. He remained on life support for weeks before dying May 2, 2015. James Bonacci has his son’s name, date of birth and date of death tattooed to his hand. He struggles to talk about Harley without sobbing.

“I don’t know, I don’t know if there’s any such thing as closure,” he said. “I don’t think anything will do that. It is indescribable – the pain you go through when your child dies – and I don’t think anything will change that.”

Graveyard for the young

Pastor Les Simmons of the South Sacramento Christian Center said he isn’t surprised by the number of teen homicides reported over the past decade; he says he’s been to more funerals than weddings. And he said there is plenty of blame to go around when cases go unsolved.

“We need a deeper commitment by police,” he said. That means dedicating more detectives to cases and more effort reaching out to community members, parents and potential witnesses who may provide useful information. “If a mom is saying, ‘That guy around the corner did it,’ ” police need to act on those tips immediately, said Simmons. “That doesn’t always happen.”

But Simmons said parents and community members also bear much of the burden. In forums organized by Simmons and other youth activists, community leaders urge people to develop better relationships with police. Parents are starting to understand that they need to “not live by the street code of ‘don’t tell’ ” when it comes to violence committed by or against young people, Simmons said.

“I think there is a new-found consciousness of parents saying, ‘I won’t be silent,’ ” he said.

Sacramento police used a common label to describe Isaiah Diaz’s homicide: “gang related.” Jackie Diaz insisted her son was not tangled in the gang life. She said a friend of her son who was with him the night he died had wandered down a troubled path and that he – not Isaiah – may have been the intended target. Two of her son’s friends witnessed the shooting and Jackie Diaz believes people in her neighborhood know who is responsible.

A dead teen, a killer on the loose, a mother’s grief

Isaiah Diaz was standing in front of his grandmother’s home in Sacramento’s Colonial Village neighborhood. Someone drove up and shot him.

José Luis Villegas The Sacramento Bee

“No one wants to be a snitch,” she said. “It’s my worst fear, that it won’t be solved. I don’t want a cold case.”

For five generations, members of Isaiah Diaz’s family have lived within a few blocks of one another in Colonial Village, a neighborhood of modest homes and dirt yards near the warehouses that line Power Inn Road in Sacramento. At the center of the neighborhood is Bill Bean Jr. Memorial Park, a public park protected by a black wrought-iron fence named for a Sacramento police officer killed by a parolee in 1999.

Isaiah Diaz spent much of the night of Oct. 2, 2015, at the house on 17th Avenue where his grandmother, Mary Diaz, lives and cares for his great-grandmother. He left at 10 p.m. and walked home, around the corner. But at some point before 1 a.m., Isaiah walked back to his grandmother’s house, a common practice for him. He often had trouble sleeping.

A friend arrived. A car pulled up and someone inside opened fire. The friend ducked for cover, but Isaiah was hit.

Jackie Diaz buried her son just 35 feet away from the grave for Brayan Castanon, a childhood friend of Diaz’s from elementary school.

Castanon and a group of friends had walked to Edward Kemble Elementary School in Meadowview on Christmas night, 2013. They argued with two young men. Castanon was shot in the head, a 17-year-old boy was shot in the shoulder and neck, and an 18-year-old took a bullet in the hand. Castanon died three days later at the age of 15.

“These poor children don’t even get to live their lives,” Jackie Diaz said.

Diaz and Castanon have something in common: They were among 15 Latino teenagers in Sacramento County killed in the past decade whose homicides remain unsolved.

The question of whether a victim’s race plays a role in arrest rates is unanswered. Charles Wellford, a criminologist and professor of criminal justice at the University of Maryland, said clearance rates vary by city, and likely have more to do with the level of cooperation investigators receive and whether investments have been made in crime-fighting tools in certain neighborhoods.

“The problem is whether people are willing to come forward and whether there’s an equal distribution of technology that police can use,” he said. “(The research) seems to suggest that the differences are not a reflection of police effort.”

The Diaz family expresses a deep mistrust of the Sacramento Police Department. Authorities, in turn, say the house on 17th Avenue where Isaiah was killed has long been a magnet for crime.

The city of Sacramento considers the home a “public nuisance,” chronicling cases of drug use, gang activity, drive-by shootings and loud noise back to March 2002, according to a civil court complaint filed by the city in 2011. Last year, the city threatened to fine the family $40,000 for allowing large vigils near the site of Isaiah’s homicide, alleging the gatherings “attract criminal activity, including gang activity, illegal narcotics possession, and illegal weapons,” according to a letter the city attorney’s office sent the family. The city took the unusual step of attaching a large, neon yellow sign to Mary Diaz’s front porch declaring the property a “DRUG AND GANG FREE ZONE” and warning “THESE PREMISES ARE BEING WATCHED BY THE SACRAMENTO POLICE DEPARTMENT.”

The family denied that the home is a magnet for crime.

On the anniversary of Isaiah’s death, three police patrol cars drove slowly by the home as friends and relatives began gathering for an evening vigil. The officers did not stop or speak with the mourners.

“I wish they’d put more effort into finding who killed my son instead of putting all that effort into us,” Jackie Diaz said.

At St. Mary’s Cemetery, Diaz and her sister placed rosary necklaces and plastic religious statutes on Isaiah’s grave. Red and gold party streamers were placed around the plot, a nod to the San Francisco 49ers, Isaiah’s favorite team. More than two dozen mourners spent the day at the cemetery.

As the adults took turns quietly staring at the grave, some of Isaiah’s young friends kept their distance, talking, laughing and drinking soda. One young girl looked at her iPhone as she sat on the ground next to a statue of Saint Padre Pio who, among other traits, is known as the patron saint of adolescents. Jackie Diaz wasn’t aware of the saint’s connection to young people, or of the prayer chiseled into the statue’s stone base just a few feet from her son’s final resting place.

“I will stand at the gates of Heaven,” the prayer reads, “and I will not enter until all of my spiritual children are with me.” 

The killing grounds

Gunshots boomed through the neighborhood surrounding Meadowview Park on a summer night in 2013, but nobody called police to report them. Hours later, an early-morning jogger spotted a young woman lying face up on a patch of grass between a basketball court and a playground, blood pooling from bullet wounds in her head and neck.

The killer, and any possible witnesses, were long gone. Finding out who murdered LaShawn Peters, 19, in the darkness in south Sacramento promised to be a daunting task.

Nearly four years later, the circumstances that led to her lonely death on June 13, 2013, remain wrapped in mystery.

Lashawn’s aunt, Tama-Sha Peters, recently cradled her own 3-year-old daughter Nyomi in her apartment not far from American Legion High School, which LaShawn and her twin, LaShay, attended. “No one should have to die that way,” she said, dissolving into tears. “The hurt will never go away.”

Nyomi, who was just a baby when LaShawn died, is a constant reminder of the family’s loss. She has the same light skin tone as her aunt; the high forehead and full lips; the solid build.

LaShawn, who family members called “Vanilla” to her twin sister’s “Chocolate,” was outspoken and funny, with a smile that brightened bad days, Peters said. She loved to cook, and planned to attend culinary school. But in the months before she died, her aunt got the impression that she had started hanging out “with people who were messed up,” Peters said.

“I wish I would have been able to pull her out of it,” she said.

A dead teen in a park. The story of a cold case

A jogger discovered LaShawn Peters’ bloodied body laying in a Meadowview Park, between a basketball court and a playground. No arrests have been made.

José Luis Villegas The Sacramento Bee

Tama-Sha held a photo of LaShawn, smiling with her sister, next to little Nyomi’s face. She showed another image on her cellphone, of LaShawn in a casket, looking as though she is peacefully sleeping. For a time, Tama-Sha kept an urn heavy with her niece’s ashes on her kitchen table.

LaShawn’s death, and the knowledge that her killer is free, have further fractured a family that was fragile even before her death, relatives said. The teen’s mother, Jovon Peters, did not appear for a scheduled interview with The Bee about her daughter. LaShay Peters has been elusive since her sister’s death, Tama-Sha said, adding that she was unsure where her surviving niece was living.

Police investigators and prosecutors often cite unsteady home lives as factors when young people turn to violence or become victims. Turnbull, the former sheriff’s department investigator, said many of the cases in that department’s jurisdiction involved teenagers who were out much later than the county’s 10 p.m. curfew.

“Some of the parents of these kids may not realize how they are influencing their kids in a negative way, because they were raised the same way,” said Heinlein, the Sacramento Police Department spokesman. “It becomes a cycle. Kids who have unstable home lives are going to resort to ‘friends’ who become their family.”

Myesha Lomack grew up with the Peters twins. They were three cousins who were as close as sisters.

“We called ourselves the triplets,” she said at her brother’s apartment in the Florin area. As children, they attended church services together, hunted Easter eggs, captured insects. But after high school, “we went a different way,” said Lomack, 24, a home health worker who commutes between Sacramento and the Bay Area.

In the months before LaShawn died, Lomack said her cousin had been “hanging out with shady people,” some of whom were involved with drugs.

“It’s a war in some neighborhoods here in Sacramento,” Lomack said.

South Sacramento neighborhoods like Meadowview were some of the most violent for teenagers in the past decade. The working class and ethnically diverse enclaves south of Fruitridge Road were the killing grounds for 35 teenagers since 2007.

Lomack has ideas about what might have happened to LaShawn, but she said detectives never contacted her. Tama-Sha Peters said she has not spoken to police since shortly after her niece’s death.

LaShawn’s Facebook page remains active, and Lomack and others frequently post messages and tributes. They also vent their frustration that her killer is still on the loose, three years later.

“Whoever stole my cousin/sis LaShawn Peters life I’m looking for you!!” Lomack wrote in August.

Peters’ homicide was investigated as local police agencies were only beginning to emerge from a period of depleted staffing. The Sacramento Police Department had 10 percent fewer officers in 2015 than it did seven years earlier, and operated without a robust gang enforcement unit for some of that time. The Sheriff’s Department lost three homicide detective positions to budget cuts in 2009 and did not regain those officers until September 2016.

Crime experts said there is a direct correlation between the staffing of specialized police units – especially detectives – and homicide clearance rates.

“It takes boots on the ground, it takes trained homicide investigators being given the necessary time and necessary overtime to make an arrest,” said Thomas Hargrove, who has studied decades of FBI data to create the nonprofit Murder Accountability Project. “It is just as simple as can be: If you don’t pony up the resources, you’re not going to solve the murders.”

Police insist they have not given up on finding LaShawn’s killer, and that one good clue could lead to an arrest.

“We know that someone has information about what happened to this young lady,” Heinlein said. “It has to be weighing on their conscience. The right thing to do is to come forward.”

Lomack is less than optimistic. Talking to police “is not the thing to do” in south Sacramento, she said. “People are scared to say anything,” she said, for fear of retaliation, even death.

On a recent afternoon, Lomack visited where her cousin took her last breaths. It was one way, she said, to keep her close to her heart.

On the sidewalk next to the playground, she saw letters scrawled in fading green paint.

“RIP LaShawn Peters,” it read.

Lomack crumpled to the ground and wept.

Fatal parties

By midnight, the party was spinning out of control.

A volatile mix of more than 100 young people, most of them uninvited, had shown up to a home near the end of a cul de sac in Rancho Cordova. Alcohol flowed. Partiers later said people had flashed gang signs and shouted at each other. Within an hour after sheriff’s deputies dispersed the crowd, it swelled again.

Joseph Burrola, 17, his older cousin, Victor, and two friends arrived at the home after receiving a text about a party earlier in the evening. They ditched their plans to shoot pool at Hard Times Billiards off Garfield Avenue and headed to Rancho.

Just past 1 a.m., a group of five young men began hitting one another. They punched a teenage girl who tried to intervene. She fell. As she lay, apparently unconscious, someone smashed her face with a bottle. Gunfire erupted. Joseph and his group headed for the door.

They and other partygoers poured from the house and onto the street, running toward their cars. “I’ll air all you all out!” a man shouted, gang parlance for gunplay. A volley of shots ricocheted around Joseph, Victor and their friend, including some that appeared to come from a car.

Neighbors called 911, and deputies sped out to Sarament Court for the second time that night. This time they found a body.

It was Joseph Burrola.

How a house party turned deadly for a Sacramento teen

Just weeks from graduating high school, Joseph Burrola was at a house party with friends in Rancho Cordova. A huge fight broke out. Burrola – who wasn’t involved in the fight – was shot in the back and died, leaving his family to grieve their loss.

José Luis Villegas The Sacramento Bee

Joseph, the eldest of four children, died weeks before he was scheduled to graduate from Elwood J. Keema High School. He was working on getting his driver’s license. A swimmer and junior lifeguard, Joseph “was drawn to the water,” said his grandmother, Lorraine Burrola. He dreamed of a job on big vessels with the Coast Guard.

Relatives said he was never involved in gang life.

Based on witness statements and cellphone video captured at the party, detectives do not believe Joseph was fighting on the night he died, or that he was targeted by the shooters, Turnbull, the sheriff’s spokesman, said. He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time: a house party in the suburbs.

Two people, Gregorio Ybarra and Julian Sabido, have been sent to prison for crimes related to the shooting on June 21, 2015. Both had prior criminal records and are described as gang members in court records. In a plea deal on firearms and assault charges, Sabido – 19 at the time of the shooting – received a sentence of 17 years. Ybarra, who was 20, was sent away for 25 years.

Neither was charged with firing the bullet that killed Joseph Burrola. But at Ybarra’s sentencing hearing, Deputy District Attorney Brian Morgan said “it was really his and his group’s conduct that caused the murder.”

Detectives are still trying to sort out that night, said Turnbull. Cases involving large numbers of people and multiple shooters are particularly difficult to crack. Many witnesses must be interviewed. Conflicting stories surface. Parents of young people who may have information are sometimes reluctant to share it for fear of pulling their child into a murder investigation.

Turnbull’s best advice to parents for protecting their children: Make sure they are home after dark, or where their parents know they are safe.

“Many of these minors, if they were not out after curfew, would be alive today,” he said. “Part of your responsibility as a parent is to keep them off the streets at night.”

At least 13 teenagers were killed at parties in Sacramento County since 2007. Most of those cases have not been solved.

Cheaquis Jones, 18, was shot when a group of uninvited guests arrived at a party he was attending in Sacramento’s Lawrence Park neighborhood in April 2014. Another teen was injured, but survived, and the assailant is still free. Uninvited guests were also blamed for killing Marlon Morales, 18, and Christopher Valdes, 19, at a party in a barn on rural Rising Road in Wilton in 2010. More than 50 people were there before a group showed up around 1:30 a.m. They were asked to leave and responded with violence. The shooter is still on the loose.

Dijon Smith, 19, was at a raucous party near Gerber Road in south Sacramento in the early hours of Sept. 23, 2012. Deputies were called to the house four times, the final time around 2:45 a.m., when they found Smith lying on the sidewalk with a fatal gunshot wound to his chest.

Despite a $12,000 reward, no one has been charged with shooting 18-year-old William Virdee to death on Sept. 27, 2009. He was killed as he drove away from a Rio Linda house party and detectives said many people may have seen what happened.

And Jimmy Le, a 16-year-old Hiram Johnson student, was standing outside a home near Lemon Hill Avenue on Oct. 17, 2010, when someone drove past and opened fire. Le was attending a party for his cousins – Marines on leave from an overseas deployment. Le was a peace activist who handed out pins with positive messages to fellow students. He died two days after he was shot.

Burolla’s killing also shows that youth violence isn’t confined to inner city neighborhoods.

Six teenagers were shot and killed in Rancho Cordova the past 10 years. Three died in Citrus Heights and three more in Elk Grove. Detectives also worked crime scenes in Folsom, Galt, North Natomas and Arden Arcade.

Burrola was living with his grandparents in Rio Linda when he was killed. He came to the Sacramento area three years ago from Texas, where his mother lived. He had been skipping school, getting into trouble, “not being a responsible citizen,” said his father Manuel, who lives in Del Paso Heights with his wife and other children. So they decided to move Joseph to California.

The change seemed to be working. Joseph was doing well in school, enjoyed weekend fishing and camping trips, and was thriving on the rural property where his grandparents kept goats, turkeys and horses. He worked at a Smog King office managed by his father’s wife, Julia Fox, and was saving money for an apartment and car, relatives said.

On the afternoon before he died, Manuel Burrola drove to Rio Linda to drop off Joseph’s paycheck. Joseph came outside, and Manuel handed him the check. Then he drove away, glancing back at the boy who seemed ready to become a man.

“I wish I had put him in the car and pulled away with him,” he said. Instead, he smiled and waved goodbye to Joseph.

Just after 4 the next morning, someone pounded on his door. It was a friend whose son had been at the Rancho Cordova party with Joseph.

“Joe’s been shot,” she told Manuel.

He and Fox arrived on Sarament Court and saw a body covered in a white sheet. A detective asked if they wanted to talk to a chaplain. They declined. They drove to Rio Linda to break the news to Joseph’s grandparents, and called the boy’s mother in Texas.

Manuel Burrola said he wants to scatter his son’s ashes in some of his favorite places: fishing holes, campsites and hiking trails. But he cannot do it, he said, until Joseph’s killer is found.

“I just don’t feel comfortable letting him go,” he said, “until justice is served.”

‘Where the bullets fly’

Harley Bonacci’s father told him to avoid The Manors. For 30 years, it’s been the kind of neighborhood where the simplest act could get you in trouble, he told him.

For Harley Bonacci, that act was listening to a song.

Strawberry Manor – known locally as The Manors – is a tough stretch of North Sacramento, where youngsters on scooters zip by boarded-up homes once occupied by drug pushers and users. Teenagers carrying backpacks walk with their heads down, wary of making eye contact with someone who may have a grudge. The homes on Mabel Street, down by an elementary school, are ringed with chain-link fences and signs warning of dangerous dogs.

“He knows to stay away from that place,” James Bonacci said. “But we can’t watch our kids every single minute of the day.”

It was a little after 3 p.m. on March 12, 2015, when 15-year-old Harley Bonacci and three friends drove into The Manors. School had just let out and it was a pleasant late-winter day, with clear skies and temperatures in the 70s.

Bonacci and his three buddies were listening to Del Paso Heights rapper TreSolid. The lyrics of his song – “2’s Up” – tell a raw story of money, cars and women. A video for the track was shot not far from The Manors.

“I represent the north, where the bullets fly, where you gotta be a soldier or you’re gonna die,” is a line in the song.

According to Bonacci’s family, the kids drove by someone who didn’t like the song, perhaps someone representing his territory in a different part of the city. Harley stuck his head out a car window and bullets flew. One shot hit Harley in the head.

Harley’s friends sped out of The Manors and rushed him down busy Norwood Avenue, to the parking lot of the T&Y Market. They called 911 for help and Harley was taken to the hospital, alert but clinging to life. A section of the boy’s skull was gone and he languished on life support for weeks. He died May 2, three days after his family pulled the plug.

On a sunny and windy Friday afternoon nearly two years later, James Bonacci sat at a picnic table in Robertson Park on Norwood Avenue, not far from the route his son’s friends took when they rushed Harley out of Strawberry Manor. His massive and cracked hands were clenched as he spoke, providing a clear view of the tattoo on his left hand that is a memorial to his son.

Harley Bonacci had been stabbed on the street a few weeks before he was killed and spent too much time worrying about girls and cars, his father said. But he also wasn’t a gangster, his dad said. He was a sophomore at Elwood J. Keema High School, played video games with his dad and stuck up for his older sister.

“He was a typical teenaged kid,” James Bonacci said. “He wanted to grow up too fast.”

James Bonacci moved his kids to South Natomas from North Sacramento a few years ago, thinking he could shield them from the kind of street violence that claimed seven teenagers over the past decade in the 95838 ZIP code. But many of their friends remained in Del Paso Heights and the kids were there often.

“I hate this place,” he said. “It’s a trap.”

Harley Bonacci was one of three teenagers shot dead in Strawberry Manor over the span of seven months in 2015. It was a stretch that also claimed the life of Clavo, the Grant High football player killed before a game while driving around with his friends. Clavo’s violent death rattled North Sacramento and much of the city. Activists, students and teachers held candlelight vigils at Grant High School, and a pastor speaking at Clavo’s funeral declared he was “sick of burying our babies.”

Police arrested 16-year-old Keymontae Lindsey on a weapons charge the day after Clavo was killed. Three months later, they charged Lindsey in Clavo’s death, announcing the arrest during a widely viewed press conference at police headquarters.

The other young man killed during that stretch was Lamar McCants, 18, who was shot shortly after midnight on April 20 in front of a relative’s home on Cookingham Way. McCants stumbled into the house, collapsed and was pronounced dead by paramedics a few minutes later. Police attributed his shooting to a gang feud and his murder remains unsolved.

No one has been charged in Bonacci’s homicide either, and his shooting received no media attention. His father is convinced police have given up finding the killer. “I wake up in the middle of the night and I don’t understand how he could have been swept under the carpet,” Bonacci said.

Detectives apparently didn’t have much to work with. Witnesses told investigators the gunshots may have been fired from a “green, four-door, American-made car with silver after-market rims,” according to a police log of the incident. Police said the “investigation remains open and active,” but offered no other details.

Detectives often say they are driven by a sense of duty to find closure for the loved ones of murder victims. Turnbull, the sheriff’s sergeant, described his comrades as passionate and driven, often going three days without sleep when a big case lands on their desk. He said a good detective will tell a victim’s family what he or she can about a case’s progress and will always believe that a killer can be found, even years later.

“You make your own luck,” he said, “and you do the best you can.”

Ryan Lillis: 916-321-1085, @Ryan_Lillis 

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