Risky Business

Two teens are murdered, as violence escalates at West Valley house parties. Some blame party-crew rivalry

That meant opening her parents' home for the party.

The girl, a sophomore at Carl Hayden High, said her parents were going out that night and probably weren't going to be home until after 2 a.m., when the bars close.

They had given her permission to have a few girlfriends over, she said, as long as she kept everything low-key. Sure thing, she'd told them.

Jose Renteria's mother, Maria, pours holy water at the spot where her son fell.
Paul Rubin
Jose Renteria's mother, Maria, pours holy water at the spot where her son fell.

Sometime after 9 p.m., an information line gave directions to the party.

A DJ with a carload of stereo equipment and CDs pulled into the driveway, followed by crew members with a keg of beer and other party favors.

By 11 p.m., more than 100 people had shown up.

The young "hostess" and others who attended later swore that everyone had been getting along fine before the police broke up the happening.

"Everyone was chilling," says Andrea Renteria. "I didn't have a problem with no one, and neither did Jose. We only left because the cops were about to break it up."

Just after 1 a.m., Phoenix police officer Ryan Petker responded to a call about a loud party on Earll that was keeping people in the neighborhood awake.

As he pulled in front of the party house, Petker heard what he later described as five to seven gunshots coming from around the corner. He called for backup, and then heard more shots coming from the same direction.

Petker quickly drove over to see what was happening and saw a woman running toward him screaming for help. It was Andrea Renteria. Moments later, he saw a line of cars speeding away in the opposite direction.

Lying on the sidewalk was a boy with a terrible gunshot wound to his head. His breathing was shallow, and his blood already was seeping onto the dark pavement.

Another young man, 18-year-old Francisco Atilano, also had gotten hit by a bullet, in his upper right leg. But his injuries weren't life-threatening.

Witness accounts varied dramatically, as they usually do in such highly charged situations.

Andrea Renteria told police that she'd seen a Latino man in a red ball cap fire a handgun from a passenger-door window of a gray Caravan. But she said she couldn't identify the shooter.

Others described markedly different vehicles from which the killer had fired -- a red Suburban, dark Monte Carlo, Jeep Cherokee.

The police soon caught up to the posse of partyers who had just seen Jose get shot, and also to a vehicle whose three passengers had been a subject of the chase.

Officers detained the trio -- two men from New Jersey and a Mexican national -- in a gold Cherokee. But after detectives interviewed them later that morning, they concluded that the men had just happened to be in the area at the time of the shooting.

Jose's oldest sister, Marianna, rushed to the scene after her sister Andrea had called her. But paramedics already had transported the boy to St. Joseph's Hospital.

"The thought of someone shooting my brother is sick," says 21-year-old Marianna, who, like her siblings, was born in Tucson.

"He was just a little kid, and he wasn't into any violence, no way. He was just coming out of a party. A party! House parties used to be somewhere for people to kick it, drink some Bacardi, Jell-O shots, meet people. Maybe just smoke a little weed, and act goofy. It wasn't about murdering no one."

It remains uncertain if Jose Renteria and Francisco Atilano were targeted or were the victims of random violence.

Doctors kept Jose alive overnight as his family wrestled with the truth of the situation. Jose's mother then allowed the doctors to harvest his vital organs before he officially was pronounced dead.

The rumors ran wild in the party crew community after the murder. Some suggested that crews competing with RTS in the house party scene had been responsible.

But a crew leader from Playground Pimps, who calls himself Bigman, tried to dispel talk that he and his buddies had gone after Jose.

"He was our homie, you stupid fucks," Bigman wrote on the RottenApplez Web site two days after the murder. "I was with Jose and Bobby from RTS like a minute before he died. I was on the hood of my truck counting the money from our party when he got shot. . . . Our prayers go out to Jose and his family."

The murder also inspired a poem titled "The Life" by a West Valley high school student who calls himself J-Keys.

"It's disgraceful how cruel people can be," J-Keys wrote. "As soon as they hear of a death, they admire it. They think of it as a joke and a good laugh.

"But what's so funny about taking the life of a 14-year-old? How could someone be so harsh and take the life of a little angel? The life of a mother's baby. The life of a sister's brother. The life of someone's best friend. The life of Jose Ramon Aguirre Renteria."

A car wash organized by Rockin' The Streetz and Jose's family raised more than $3,000 to defray the costs of the young man's wake in Phoenix and his burial in Mexico.

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