Gang related killings escalate near Mission campus

A memorial on a post at Camp Street, a quiet spot near Guerrero in the Mission District of San Francisco, where the fatal shooting of Dwayne Spruell, also known as ‘Double O,’ took place on Sept. 5, 2011. BETH LABERGE / THE GUARDSMAN


City College students fear for their safety

By Brian Rinker
The Guardsman

The Mission District is known for hip bars, cafes and boutiques, but in recent weeks the sunny community has been clouded by three fatal shootings serving a bloody reminder that gangs, drugs and violence are a continuing problem, and some City College students are getting caught in the middle.

The end of August and the beginning of September were the two bloodiest weeks of the year for the Mission District with four shootings killing, which left three men dead.

The escalation in violence began when Gaspar Puch-Tzek, 29, was on break smoking a cigarette near the intersection of 19th and San Carlos streets by the restaurant Hogs and Rocks where he worked as a cook. Two Latino men approached and shot Puch-Tzek, a father of two, in the head. He died later at San Francisco General Hospital.

Police said the shooting could be gang related and Puch-Tzek may have been mistaken as a Sureño and targeted by rival gang, Norteño.

Mistaken identity and gang violence is a real fear threatening the safety of the whole community.

“It’s a security issue for the whole neighborhood,” said Ismael Chel, 37, who lives, works and attends school in the Mission. “We people who live here all have a tiny fear. It could happen to anyone.”

Originally from Yucatan, Mexico, Chel is a City College student and president of the Mayan club on the Mission campus. He is also a cook at a restaurant on 25th and Mission streets and some evenings doesn’t finish work until after 1am.

“It’s a crucial and scary time,” Chel said. He agreed the fatal shooting and mistaken identity of Puch-Tzek could happen to him. “People in the community question the violence and the whole neighborhood is concerned.”

Chel worried the Latino gangs give the entire Latino community bad representation and said the best way to end gang violence is through education. The gangs use fear as a tool to keep most community members from taking action.

“The community is afraid of the consequences from the gangs,” Chel said. “They’re afraid to get involved.”

Jesus Davila, 39, vice president of the associated students at Mission campus, agrees that education will empower Latinos to make wise choices and help end discrimination toward Latinos.

127 violent crimes shown in radius of .5 miles of City College Mission campus. Fist icons represent assaults, some of which are untried homicides. The dates displayed are from Aug. 1 to Sept. 18, 2011. IMAGE COURTESY OF CRIMEMAPPING.COM



“We want all the Latin community to have a choice, so it’s not just the streets,” Davila said, who was born and raised in Mexico. “The violence is because they don’t have an education.”

The Mission campus is a safe haven, a place to get away from the gangs, said Davila, a Bay Area resident of 19 years. A few months after immigrating to the US, Davila was hit by a freight train in Oakland and broke his spine. He spent the following years living on the streets surrounded by gang violence. It was heartbreaking to see children get sucked into the gang life. Now, Davila, confined to a wheel chair, goes to City College and encourages Latino youth to get an education.

City College’s Mission campus, 22nd Street between Mission and Valencia streets, is in the heart of Latino gangland. Two rival gangs, Norteños and Sureños, claim territory beginning a few blocks on either side of the campus; for the second time this year a wave of violence has crashed on the surrounding periphery of the campus spreading ripples of fear and concern throughout the community.

“They [gang members] are not around the City College,” said Davila. “It’s pretty safe for students and we have a friendly community.”
Davila said many Latino students who take night classes leave in groups and never alone.

On September 7 a man was shot in the hip at the 24th and Mission streets, just two blocks from campus. The injury wasn’t life threatening and the incident is thought to be drug related.

Not all students are worried about the escalating violence.

“As a white female I really don’t think I have anything to be worried about,” said Jen Clark, 23. “I take night classes at Mission campus and I don’t get out till 10pm sometimes. I’ve never felt threatened by anyone in that area.”

After Puch-Tzek was killed in the early morning, another fatal shooting occurred later on that same day around 11:30pm. Edson Lacayo, 29, alleged Sureño was shot three times on the 800 block of Hampshire, near 20th Street, and died on the scene.

Walking home late that night Allan Hough, 30, was returning home from a bar. He lives on Hampshire a half of block from the fatal shooting. He came up to the police tape and knew something bad had happened even though police wouldn’t disclose any information
Hough, a former City College student who transferred to SF State, has lived in the Hampshire home since January. He has never known a fatal shooting to happen so close to home. Hough didn’t personally know Lacayo, but after seeing his picture at the memorial he realized he recognized him.

“I’d seen him at Dolores Park, chilling and having a good time,” Hough said. “He was holding court with a group of people around him cracking jokes.”

The police think Lacayo’s death was gang related stemming from a gang war sparked in February, which killed City College student and alleged Sureño Aldo Troncoso, 24. The war seemed to fizzle out, but the recent escalating violence could be a resurgence in the gangs rivalry.

On Labor Day morning around 2am Dwayne Spruell, 45, was shot to death on the first block of Camp Street, near Guerrero Street.
Dwayne received gunshots to the head and chest and was pronounced dead at the scene.

A 26-year-old City College architecture student heard the gunshots from his Camp Street home a few houses away. Looking out the window he saw Spruell lying in the street. Paramedics were giving him CPR for a while before giving up and covering Spruel’s body with a sheet, he said.

“It was pretty intense,” said the student who requested anonymity. He feared his name connected with a murder would incur some unwarranted consequences. “My roommate got home ten minutes prior to the shooting.”

Although shaken by the murder and fearing for his own safety, he said he hasn’t taken any precautions.

“I feel a little less safe,” the anonymous student said, “but I haven’t changed my daily routine.”

The death of Spruel is said by police and neighbors to be drug related and is thought to be a spillover incident from the increasing drug-related problems occurring on 16th and Mission streets.

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