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Shootings Renew Gang Fears in the Mission

Police don't yet know if two killings in 24 hours were related

San Francisco police officers are saturating a section of the Mission District after a known gang member was shot and killed late Tuesday, the second gang-related homicide in less than 24 hours, police said.

In the most recent shooting, 29-year-old Edson Lacayo, an alleged member of the Norteños, was out walking his dog in the 800 block of Hampshire Street at about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday when two men approached and shot him several times.

Twenty-three hours earlier, at about 12:30 a.m., 22-year-old Gaspar Puch-Tzek, a line cook at Hog & Rocks on 19th Street, was shot and killed by two alleged members of the Norteño gang outside the restaurant. Police believe the alleged Norteños mistook Puch-Tzek for a rival gang member. The restaurant is in Sureño territory.

Although police have not yet determined whether the shootings were related, the incidents have renewed concerns about a longstanding feud between the two gangs in the Mission. In less than 24 hours, the number of homicides in the district this year doubled from two to four — the total number of homicides in the district for all of last year. Police are hoping to prevent retaliatory violence.

“The suspects in both shootings are gang members, so in that respect they have a common thread, but the first shooting was just a real tragedy,” said Greg Corrales, captain of the Mission police station. “Of course, we don't want anybody to get killed. But if one embraces the gang lifestyle, then violent, early death kind of goes hand-in-hand with that lifestyle.”

Throughout Wednesday, friends and neighbors visited the site of Lacayo's shooting on Hampshire Street, now a makeshift memorial cluttered with candles and flowers underneath a telephone pole.

"He was always smiling and friendly," one neighbor said to one of Lacayo's friends. "I always felt better seeing him around here. I'm going to miss him."

The friend, who identified himself only as Jay, said he'd grown up with Lacayo, whose nickname was Taz. A stuffed toy Tasmanian Devil sat next to the candles. Lacayo's mother sobbed nearby.

After Lacayo was shot Tuesday night, his dog ran home, alerting Lacayo's family to his absence. Witnesses reported seeing two men flee the scene, and a number of residents called police, who found Lacayo bleeding on the ground. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Puch-Tzek died Wednesday at San Francisco General Hospital. Police say he had just gotten off of work and was smoking a cigarette when two men in their mid-20s approached him and asked what gang affiliation he claimed. When he said none, one of the men shot him in the head and both fled west on 19th Street.

Hog & Rocks opened as usual at 5 p.m. on Wednesday. On the side of the gray building, outside the kitchen, friends and kitchen workers set up a memorial for Puch-Tzek: a cardboard box with candles, surrounded by flowers and a photo of the former line cook, who had worked at the restaurant for six months. The friends discussed the shooting in Spanish, gulping beer wrapped in brown paper bags.

"My friend," said one man, in Spanish, of Puch-Tzek. "My family."

Police said Puch-Tzek worked two jobs to support his family. Scott Youkilis, the owner of the restaurant, said Puch-Tzek's brother plans to return his sibling's body to Mexico.

Police have not identified suspects or made any arrests in either shooting.

Despite the new incidents, Corrales said gang violence in the district has dropped in the past few years. In 2008, the district had 16 homicides, mostly the result of a feud between the Norteños and Sureños. But after a court issued an injunction limiting the movement of gang members, there were a total of eight homicides in the area, Corrales said.

Then in February, tensions flared again after Sureño graffiti appeared in Norteño territory, and the district experienced a surge in gang violence, resulting in a spate of shootings and the killing of Aldo Troncoso at the corner of 17th and Mission streets in March. Gang task force investigators said they could not say what might have motivated Puch-Tzek's shooting.

Corrales is responding to the violence by dispatching plainclothes officers and moving officers from regular assignments into the neighborhood, including areas in both Norteño and Sureño territories. The department is also talking to community organizations that work with at-risk youth and gang members in the area.

“We're trying to cool things off and discourage retaliaion,” he said. “We've had a long period of no gang violence in the district, and now we've had two in two nights. So it's obviously alarming, and we have to take extraordinary measures to calm it down.”

Approximate gang boundaries in the Mission District (click for details):

Map produced by Zoe Corneli.

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