Story Summary

Libby Park gang violence

Story Timeline
Previous Next
This story has 9 updates

VISTA, Calif. — Murder and other charges were dismissed Thursday against one of five people accused of opening fire in an Oceanside park in rival gang territory, killing a 13-year-old girl and a 15-year-old boy and wounding two other teens.

Arrests Made In Connection With The Libby Park Shootings

Melanie Virgen, 13, and Edgar Sanchez, 15, were shot to death in Libby Park.

Deputy District Attorney Christine Bannon told a judge that while evidence indicates 19-year-old Brian Bodden was involved in the crimes, prosecutors were not confident that they could prove the case against him beyond a reasonable doubt.

Four others, Martin Melendrez, 23, Santo Diaz, 20, Michael Zurita, 20, and Kevin Brizuela, 18, are each charged with two counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder in connection with the March 13, 2013, shooting at Libby Lake Park.

Their preliminary hearing is set for July 7.

Oceanside police said the defendants fired on the victims at about 9 p.m. near a makeshift memorial for two teens who had been killed in the park. Melanie Virgen and her close friend, Edgar Sanchez, were fatally wounded and two other teens were seriously injured, including a 15-year-old boy.

According to the prosecution, the victims were all sitting near each other on a couch that had been placed near the memorial when they were fired upon.

The memorial was for Sandra Salgado, 14, and her boyfriend, 16-year-old Fernando Solano, who were gunned down in a gang assault two years earlier.

VISTA, Calif. — One of four men who admitted their roles in the shooting deaths of two teenagers at Libby Lake Park in Oceanside was sentenced Friday to 20 years in state prison.

Fernando Solano and Sandra SalgadoKenneth Dwight Hamilton pleaded guilty in the May 3, 2011, deaths of 14- year-old Sandra Salgado and 16-year-old Fernando Solano.

Hamilton, 36, and co-defendant Justin Holiday Gibson each pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, and 22-year-old AL’C Bejaran — the shooter — pleaded guilty to murder.

A fourth gang member, Tyrone Blackmon, pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact and was sentenced to four years in prison.

Bejaran was sentenced last year to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Gibson was sentenced to 20 years in state prison.

Oceanside police found the bodies at the Calle Montecito Street park about 10:30 p.m. while responding to reports of gunfire in the area.

The teens, who relatives said were boyfriend and girlfriend, had no gang ties but were in the wrong place at the wrong time, according to police.

The prosecution said Gibson and Hamilton — members of a predominately black gang — went to the park in rival Hispanic gang territory with Bejaran the night of the shootings.

Police said Hamilton later confessed he, Gibson and Bejaran were smoking pot when Bejaran spotted the teenagers on a hillside and shot them. Bejaran’s then-girlfriend testified that he wanted revenge for an attack on Hamilton days earlier.

Arrests Made In Connection With The Libby Park Shootings

Melanie Virgen, 13, and Edgar Sanchez, 15, were shot to death in Libby Park.

OCEANSIDE, Calif. — Police arrested a fifth person in connection to the murder of two teenagers in Libby Park in March.

Brian Bodden, 18, of Vista was booked on two counts of murder and participating in a criminal street gang on Thursday, Oceanside police said. Bodden was already in custody for unrelated charges. His bail was set at $5 million.

Melanie Virgen, 13, and Edgar Sanchez, 15, were shot to death in the park on March 13 near a makeshift memorial for two teens who had been previously killed in the park. Two other boys were wounded in the attack.

Police arrested four other people in connection with the shooting on March 30. Martin Melendrez, 21, Michael Zurita, 19, Santo Diaz, 19, and Kevin Brizuela, 17, have all pleaded not guilty to the killings.

VISTA, Calif. — Four suspects in the fatal shootings at Oceanside’s Libby Lake Park entered not guilty pleas to all allegations Wednesday afternoon.

Martin Melendrez, Michael Zurita and Santo DiazMartin Melendrez, 21, Michael Zurita, 19, Santo Diaz, 19, and Kevin Brizuela, 17, appeared before Judge Kimberlee Lagotta for arraignment. Though Brizuela is a juvenile, he is being charged as an adult.

Melanie Virgen, 13, and Edgar Sanchez, 15 were killed in the shooting. Two other teens were injured, but are expected to survive.

The suspects face two counts each of murder and two counts each of attempted murder.Kevin Brizuela

Deputy District Attorney Christine Bannon requested they be held without bail. Judge Lagotta agreed to the request.

“Given the extreme danger to the community of each and every one of these defendants and the extreme risk of flight to the community robbing them of justice,” said Bannon.

Investigators have tied the crimes to a gang related shooting and said each of the victims was shot multiple times. They do not believe the victims had any involvement with a gang.

Arrests Made In Connection With The Libby Park Shootings

Melanie Virgen and Edgar Sanchez

“I can’t imagine what it’s like for the families,” said Bannon. “It has to be something that’s indescribable in terms of the level of pain that the families have to go through. A fear that persists. Gangs are a plague in the community. When they commit a violent act against an individual unprovoked in the community, it terrifies everyone else.”

If convicted, Brizuela faces life in prison because he was under 18 when the crime was committed. The other three suspects could face the death penalty. That decision would be up to the district attorney.

OCEANSIDE, Calif. – The park where two Oceanside teens were killed last month is being made over to improve security, but some neighbors worry the added security won’t be enough.

Libby Lake Park was filled with children laughing Tuesday afternoon, but that didn’t cause some parents to be hesitant to be there.

“I was kind of worried coming by myself with the kids,” one woman said while pushing her children in a swing.

Melanie Virgen, 13  and 15-year-old Edgar Sanchez was killed in a gang related shooting around 8 p.m. on March 13.

Two other teens were murdered in the same park in 2011.

After the murders last month, Oceanside city leaders decided the easiest way to improve safety was to make the park less teenager friendly. City Manger Peter Weiss said that means drastically changing the landscape and adding more lights.

“It was a nice dark area where kids could hang out and not worry about parents or police seeing them,” Weiss said.

The city started the first phase of the transformation Monday by removing trees and shrubs. Crews will also level off the slope of a hill on the Northeast side.  The city will install more lights shining directly on the area where the shootings occurred.

Police have also increased patrols.

“Teenagers are teenagers, they’ll find a place to hang out,” Weiss said. “In this particular place there was a lot of activity and this will help alleviate that.”

One woman Joanna, who declined to give her full name, says the current plans are a good start, but she won’t rest easy until more is done.

“I hope it stops the violence, but I don’t know if just by cutting down the trees it will help,” Joanna said.

OCEANSIDE, Calif. —  Four people were arrested in connection with the March 13 shooting in Libby Lake Park that was gang-related and left two teenagers dead and two others wounded, investigators with the Oceanside Police Department said Saturday.

Police said a series of search warrants served early Friday morning in Oceanside and Vista resulted in the arrests of three men and one juvenile.

Martin Melendrez, 21, Vista; Michael Zurita, 19, Vista; Santo Diaz, 19, Oceanside; and an unidentified juvenile were booked on charges of murder, attempted murder and participation in a criminal street gang.

Melanie Virgen, 13, and Edgar Sanchez, 15, died in the shooting.  Two other boys were wounded — one remains in the hospital.

Memorial at Libby Park

A makeshift memorial set up at Libby Park for Melanie Virgen and Edgar Sanchez

“It’s sad they did that to those kids because they were so young – they took their lives away.  I’m happy that they caught them,” said a woman who lives near tbe park.

Authorities also recovered a Toyota pickup similar to the one witnesses saw speed off the night of the shooting.

The teens were shot near a memorial for victims killed in another gang-related shooting back in 2011.  Police say the park violence has city leaders ready to take action.

“Shortly after the homicides occurred, our city manager, city council and chief of police did a walk through the park saying, ‘how can we make this better?’  There are some changes coming to the park, in short order, to enhance the safety of the park,” said Lt. Steve Regalado.

OCEANSIDE, Calif. — More than two dozen officers and detectives passed out fliers at Libby Lake Park and nearby neighborhoods Wednesday to generate new leads in a shooting that left two teens dead and another two wounded.

Melanie Virgen and Edgar Sanchez were murdered at Libby Lake Park.

Melanie Virgen and Edgar Sanchez were murdered at Libby Lake Park.

Melanie Virgen, 13, and 15-year-old Edgar Sanchez were fatally shot in the Calle Montecito park about 8:50 p.m. last Wednesday, according to Oceanside police. David Garcia and David Rendon, also juveniles, were shot but survived.

The fliers passed out by detectives asked “Who Murdered These Kids?” — and included school photos of the victims.

After the shooting, witnesses said suspects in dark clothing drove off in a gray or silver 2005 or 2006 Toyota Tacoma or Tundra extended-cab truck, according to Lt. Aaron Doyle.

No motive has been disclosed. There was no “solid evidence” that it was gang-related, the lieutenant said.

“You have the obvious evidence at the crime scene and witness statements you obtain that night. But a lot of information is obtained through things like we’re doing tonight,” said Doyle.

The shooting occurred near a makeshift memorial for two teens killed in a gang assault nearly two years ago.

Anyone with more information about the homicides was asked to call Detective Mark LaVake at (760) 435-4872 or Crime Stoppers’ anonymous tip line at (888) 580-8477. Anonymous emails and texts can also be sent to  Information leading to an arrest could be worth up to $1,000.

OCEANSIDE, Calif. – Oceanside police Saturday set up a special anonymous tip line as they investigated a double homicide in Libby Lake Park on Wednesday.

body-crimePolice detectives said they need people with any information to call them at 760-435-4730.

At 8:50 p.m. that night, Oceanside police responded to a 911 call of shots being fired in Libby Lake Park.

They found four juvenile victims, two dead on arrival, from gunshot wounds.

The two remaining victims were transported to trauma hospitals for treatment.

The motive for the attack was unknown to police, and they have withheld the identities of the victims pending notification of next of kin.

Witnesses described suspects being sought as Hispanic males wearing dark clothing, Oceanside Police said.

Suspects were last seen fleeing the area in a gray or silver 2005 or 2006 Toyota Tacoma or Toyota Tundra extended-cab style pickup.

OCEANSIDE, Calif. – A community mourned Thursday the loss of two teenagers shot dead in Oceanside, as investigators attempted to figure out if the killings are gang related.

A makeshift memorial grew Thursday as family and friends of the victims dropped off balloons and flowers at Libby Lake Park.

“I heard eight rounds of shots, then I could hear them afterwards yelling for help,” said one neighbor, who didn’t want to be identified.

Oceanside homicide detectives said they found four teenagers shot, two of them were taken to local hospitals, the other two were found lifeless just before 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Residents identified the murdered teens as 13-year-old Melanie Virgen and Edgar Rios, 17, a sophomore at El Camino High School.

“Edgar was a good kid as far as I know,” a classmate said.

A man, who walked up to the memorial and didn’t give his name, told Fox 5 he is an active gang member and that neither of the victims in Wednesday’s shooting were involved in gangs.

Investigators continued their search for the three gunmen who fled in a gray or silver 2005 or 2006 Toyota Tundra or Toyota Tacoma extended-cab pickup truck with tinted windows, Lt. Aaron Doyle said.

The motive for the attack was under investigation. There was no “solid evidence” that it was gang-related, the lieutenant said.

Thursday’s memorial for the two victims is just steps away from another spot with balloons and candles placed to remember the lives of two teenagers who were shot and killed in 2011.

Late on the night of May 3, 2011, Sandra Salgado, 14, and her boyfriend, 16-year-old Fernando Solano, were slain on a hillside at the park near the San Luis Rey River.

Three documented gang members await trial on double-murder charges for the killings. The 20-year-old alleged gunman faces a possible death sentence if convicted, and the others are in line for potential terms of life in prison.

A fourth defendant pleaded guilty late last year to being an accessory after the fact in the case.

The accused shooter’s girlfriend testified during a court hearing that the slayings were an act of revenge for an attack on one of her boyfriend’s gang cohorts days earlier.

Anyone with information regarding Wednesday night’s shooting has been asked to call the Oceanside Police Department.