The shooting was reported shortly after midnight in the 1500 block of Beachwood Drive, where a large group had gathered to set off illegal fireworks, Sgt. Christopher Mahurin said.
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A silver Honda Accord drove by and witnesses told police they heard gang challenges coming from the car, then shots were fired from inside the car.
"I saw the car come down and the arm with the gun sticking out. And then shots fired from the car. That's when I hit the ground," said one man while describing the gunfight between occupants of a silver Honda Accord and others who fired back.
Within seconds, bullets hit four people including two teenagers. One of them hit 35-year-old Javier Montes in the chest, killing him. He had worked in construction.
"All I know is he was celebrating with friends and then a car drove by and started shooting at him," said the victim's sister Nora Montes. "It is hard to grasp. I wish I could wake up from today."
Last night's shooting was the fifth homicide in Santa Rosa this year. Police believe it may have been gang-related. Evidence points to the assailants targeting this party.
"It has been a violent last couple of months in particular with increasing gun violence. And violent crime in general," said Santa Rosa Police Sergeant Chris Mahurin. "We're trying to determine what was said. Witnesses say they were making gang claims but we're still trying to figure out what. It was chaotic."
Santa Rosa police estimate 100 people in the intersection last night. They know because officers responded to a call at the corner less than an hour before the shootings, but did not stay long.
"The officers were threatened and outnumbered," said Sgt. Mahurin. Back-up would have been difficult. "We had 700 calls for service that day. Between 6 p.m. and 2:30 a.m., we had 400 calls for fireworks alone"
Later, neighbors lit candles on the corner, not far from where Javier Montes fell. "He was a friend," said one man after striking the match and then crossing himself. "So that is how we honor him out here. You know?"
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A16-year-old boy and 17-year-old boy were also hit by gunfire and critically wounded, police said.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Montes' family with funeral expenses. You can make a donation here.