Chad, 19, graduated from Carlsbad High School and has friends in Oceanside.
“I think it’s the drugs that messes up kids’ heads,” Chad says. “Drugs make people do crazy things, and they start going against each other. It creates competition. When I was 13, a lot of my friends started using PCP and acid, and they started giving it to me for free. And then after, like, half a year, once I was already hooked, then they wanted to start charging me for it. So that’s how they got me. And how are you going to get money when you’re 13? So I had to start stealing and stuff. I did what I had to, because I was just up in my head. I wasn’t thinking about anyone else at the time. So I actually went with the skinhead crew for a little while. It messed up a lot of my relationships with friends and my family. But I got out of that a couple years ago, and I’m trying to change some of my buddies around now.”
At the mention of gangs, one kid runs his hands back and forth over the top of his head and says, “I don’t feel right talking about that.”
Another kid won’t give his name or age but does say, “My friends have mugged people right in front of me, but I don’t get involved. We’ll be walking, and they’ll pull out a knife and try to take someone’s money. Whenever that happens, I just want to get out of the scene.”
Israel, 16, goes to El Camino High School. He lives in the Back Gate.
“I don’t really go out that much,” Israel says. “My parents insist on me staying inside. Especially at night. Back when that cop died, that was crazy. And when they killed that kid. That was bad, too. But otherwise, I guess I hear cop cars and gunshots sometimes from my house, but not all that much. I’m pretty used to how it is here, though. This is where I live. I don’t feel unsafe. This is my home.”
Back Gate Shootings
The main street running through the Back Gate is Vandegrift Boulevard. Many of the other streets in the area, including Arthur, Gold, and Charles streets, either cross Vandegrift at some point or run closely parallel to it.
ON VANDEGRIFT BOULEVARD:
Aug. 19, 2006 — A man in his 30s is shot near Camp Pendleton’s back gate about 3:00 a.m. and walks into a hospital 12 hours later for treatment.
March 14, 2004 — A 23-year-old man is shot at a convenience store around 1:30 a.m. He survives.
ON ARTHUR AVENUE:
June 10, 2006 — Two men, aged 23 and 24, are shot after arguing with men in a sedan while in front of a home near North River Road. They survive.
Oct. 15, 2005 — Jimmy Malo, 27, shoots at and misses three Oceanside police detectives as they patrol a street in an unmarked vehicle. Authorities call Malo a gang member, but a jury disagrees. He’s convicted of attempted voluntary manslaughter and assault with a firearm and faces up to 26 years in prison.
July 23, 2005 — Jonathan Cobb, 19, of Menifee, fires three shots at the home of a rival gang member, hitting no one. Cobb pleads guilty to shooting at an occupied home and is sentenced to eight years in prison.
April 22, 2005 — A 17-year-old is shot in the leg while crossing a parking lot in the 600 block of North Redondo Way. The teen goes to a friend’s house on Arthur Avenue and calls for help.
March 14, 2004 — Shortly before 6:00 a.m., shots are fired into a garage door, hitting a 41-year-old Oceanside woman. She survives.
ON GOLD DRIVE:
Dec. 20, 2006 — Officer Dan Bessant is fatally shot while on an unrelated traffic stop. Gang members Meki Gaono, 17, and Penifoti “C.J.” Taeotui, 16, plead not guilty in adult court and await trial.
June 9, 2005 — Rusty Seau, 16, is fatally shot in a fight with a rival gang. Tony Lessie, 17, is convicted of murder, as an adult, and sentenced to 40 years to life in prison.
March 16, 2004 — Lacy Charles Black, 26, fires at a former gang member and his sister in front of their home. The brother is hit four times and survives. The sister is unhurt. Black is convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 65 years to life in prison.
ON CHARLES DRIVE:
March 16, 2004 — Shots are fired into a house, missing a 34-year-old man inside.
Sources: Oceanside Police Department and the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Salilo Moimoi is a huge fellow with a recognizably Samoan body type: round yet jutting face, thick neck, broad shoulders, enormous arms and legs, and big hands. He wears his dark hair pulled back in a ponytail. His goatee has begun to show strands of dignified gray.
“It all started out for me in the deep valley, looking for a place of belonging, you know,” Moimoi says. “I never hung out with my parents much. So I ran the streets and found people that were lonely like me, I guess.”
Moimoi sits at a cement picnic table in John Landes Park. It’s Saturday morning. He’s here to participate in a public antigang event called Victory Outreach. But now he’s gazing off into the green trees with a look of reminiscence.
“And then I got into a gang, the Deep Valley Bloods,” he says in a tone that implies he knows how stupid that decision was. “I was about 13 or 14. And me and my other friend, I’m not going to say his name, but we were the youngest out of the whole crowd. The jump-ins were crazy. On Arthur Street, we used to make two lines. And you’d have to run down the middle. You’d have to make it to the other end to get jumped in. And there was, like, 18 of them every time, to jump you in, to become a gang member. They’d kick you, punch you, and you’d be crawling through the line, and the best thing to do, I learned, was just run. Keep your hands up, and fight back, and run. Because once you fall, you’re not going to make it.”