Rico Ridgeway’s left forearm is decorated, in delicate cursive, with the biblical reference Galatians 5:1.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” he quotes, talking on the phone at the Sacramento County jail from behind a Plexiglas barrier. “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery.”
Yet Ridgeway, 24, is anything but free. He is behind bars, held on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon in connection with a shooting and stabbing melee that broke out Thursday on the Sacramento City College campus, killing one man and seriously wounding another.
The dead man, Ridgeway said in an interview, is his cousin and mentor, Roman P. Gonzalez. He denied knowing anything about the other two men involved in the violent outburst on campus, including the person who shot and killed Gonzalez. Police have declined to identify both the shooter, who as of Saturday evening remained at large, and another man whom Ridgeway allegedly stabbed and seriously injured.
According to police, Gonzalez and Ridgeway, both Sacramento City College students, were at the college Thursday afternoon fighting with two men in a campus parking lot off Sutterville Road, not far from where Gonzalez’s mother and cousins live. Ridgeway allegedly stabbed another student. The unidentified stabbing victim was taken to an area hospital, seriously wounded.
A third man fired shots, killing Gonzalez and grazing Ridgeway, who tried desperately to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation on his dying cousin in the parking lot.
Both Gonzalez and Ridgeway have criminal records. Gonzalez was charged in 2006 with three felonies, including assault with a semi-automatic firearm. He pleaded no contest to assault with a deadly weapon and was sentenced to two years in a California Youth Authority facility. Gonzalez served nearly six months of his sentence, but was returned to custody twice for suspected parole violations, according to state corrections records. His parole expired in March 2013.
Sacramento Superior Court records show Ridgeway was charged with four felonies in 2013, including assault with a firearm. He pleaded no contest to that charge in October 2013. Ridgeway served 10 months and was paroled in February, records show.
Ridgeway, who spoke softly and wept throughout a 30-minute jailhouse interview, described Gonzalez, 25, as the rock of their large, extended family. He said the two of them were inseparable and had dreams of digging out of a hardscrabble life in south Sacramento that left deep emotional scars.
“He was the big brother I never had, and we did everything together,” he said. “Sports. Music. We took the same classes at school. He was my best friend. He was my brother, man. I truly, truly loved him.”
He said Gonzalez, whose father was shot to death when he was 13, has two young children with whom he recently reunited after a custody dispute. Now they, too, will be fatherless, he said.
“Roman always said, ‘I don’t want to die like my dad,’ ” Ridgeway said. “He had come so far, and he was changing his life for the better. He decided that if we all worked together, we could do something great. We were going to try to build something, you know?”
Ridgeway declined to speak specifically about the incident that led to Gonzalez’s death. He said the two had just finished their afternoon classes Thursday when the violence broke out.
“I just wanted us to go home. That was it,” he said. “I was going to drop him off at home, and then go to work” at an area convenience store, he said. “Then I would see him later.”
On Jeffrey Avenue on Saturday afternoon, friends and family members gathered to mourn Gonzalez.
April Allen’s home, which was intended to be the site of her 29th birthday celebration, became a gathering place for loved ones, whom she said were shocked and distraught about Gonzalez’s death.
The two young men were were part of a large and tightly knit family, she said, and Gonzalez’s warm nature drew in lots of friends.
On his Facebook page, Gonzalez talks about trying to support his family, wanting to get a job and being determined to stay in school.
Ridgeway said Roman “never let me down. Whenever I needed him, whenever I needed to talk to get advice, he was there.”
He is convinced, he said, that he almost saved Gonzalez that day on campus, blowing into his mouth and pounding his chest as paramedics and police rushed to the scene.
“He was fighting. He was with me. I kept telling him, ‘Don’t die. Fight. Fight with me.’ But once I left his side, he left, too. I feel like I let him down.”
“Everything happened so fast,” Ridgeway said. “I went from holding my brother in my hands and watching him die to this,” he said, gesturing toward the seventh-floor jail pod where he now resides. “I can’t get past it. It’s all so surreal.
“This is a nightmare, and there’s no way to wake up. All I can do is pray for him, and for our families.”
Besides his two children, ages 5 and 6, Gonzalez also leaves a teenage brother. On Friday, Allen set up a GoFundMe account to help cover Gonzalez’s burial expenses and to support his mother and the mother of his children while they mourn.