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5 Watsonville Teens Arrested for Killing Santa Cruz Boy, 12

Tensions between rival gangs sparked the deadly violence in August 2012.

Patch file photo
Patch file photo
Five Watsonville residents—all younger than 20—have been arrested on suspicion of the August 2012 gang-motivated shooting death of a 12-year-old Santa Cruz boy, Santa Cruz police reported Monday.

Joseph Mendoza was killed Aug. 8, 2012 in the Lower Ocean Street neighborhood of Santa Cruz. He standing on the sidewalk at San Lorenzo Boulevard and Bixby Street when he was confronted by a group of suspects in a car, police said.

During the confrontation, the suspects fired several shots from a handgun, striking and killing Joseph, police said. 

Santa Cruz police detectives worked with the District Attorney’s Office and Juvenile Probation to track down leads in the case.

Five arrests were made early Monday and police said they expect a sixth person also will be charged in connection with Joseph's death. All face charges of homicide, gang participation, firing a gun from a vehicle and weapons violations, police said.

Arrested were: 
  • Andrew Carrera, 19 of Watsonville
  • two 15-year-old boys taken into custody at group homes in Exeter and Placerville, respectively
  • two 17-year-old boys currently in custody at Santa Cruz County Juvenile Hall in Felton. 

Police said all five are Norteño gang members. Four were on juvenile probation at the time of Joseph's death and all lived in Watsonville at the time, police said.

The sixth suspect currently is jailed on unrelated charges, police said. That person's identity was not released.

"The investigation revealed the motivation for this homicide as tensions between rival gangs," Santa Cruz police reported in a press release Monday. 

Police have said Joseph had ties to a Sureño gang, though his family denied that and a mentor told a reporter he thought Joseph could be saved. 

"Yeah, he lives in a neighborhood infested with gang members. He's got gang members in his family," Willie Stokes,who was the boy's counselor through the nonprofit, The Black Sheep Redemption Program, said shortly after Joseph's death. "He may have had run-ins with the law, maybe little minor things. He wasn't entrenched. This isn't another kid in the gangs."

At the time of his death, Joseph had just joined a football team and was getting straight-As in a county alternative education program. 

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