Dom Sanchez says he remembers what it felt like in Maryvale last spring and summer, when it seemed like the predominantly Latino community was under attack by a phantom shooter.
He felt particularly uneasy, he says, because both his wife and brother were working late hours at the time. Most of the shootings linked to the shooter took place in the hours just before or after midnight.
“She would come home late,” Sanchez says, pointing to his wife. “It was crazy that you could get shot just sitting in your driveway, or sitting in your car.”
After being on edge for more than a year, many Maryvale residents are breathing a little easier this week.
“I feel relieved,” says Sanchez, when asked how he feels about the arrest this week of 23-year- old suspect Aaron Juan Saucedo.
Of the nine murders now linked to Saucedo, seven of those occurred in Maryvale, which is one of Phoenix’s 15 “urban villages,” and also its most populous.
More than 200,000 people live in the long, broad swath of west Phoenix that stretches roughly from 43rd Avenue to the Agua Fria River, sandwiched in between McDowell Road and Camelback Road.
Sanchez and his wife live in a sprawling apartment complex near 67th Avenue and Thomas Road. Their home is about a mile from where four people — all now linked by police to Saucedo — were fatally shot last June.
Sanchez is a friendly man in his 20s who says he carries a gun for protection. He was prepared to use force if he ever came face-to-face with the man known as the Phoenix Serial Street Shooter or just the Maryvale Shooter.
He describes a night when he wondered if he and his wife had a brush with the shooter. It happened some night last summer, when he noticed a dark-color BMW matching the police description of the serial shooter’s vehicle.
“We seen the car coming slow around the corner. He was just driving slow. I think he saw us because he stopped right where we were at. I pushed my wife back into the truck and hid behind the car,” Sanchez says.
The car drove by without incident, Sanchez says. He didn’t get a good look at the driver’s face.
“I was either going to hit him with my truck, or shoot him to collect the $75,000,” Sanchez says with a laugh.
“I feel relieved that he’s caught,” he says again. “I feel bad for the people that were shot.”
Phoenix Police officially announced Saucedo as the primary suspect in the Phoenix Serial Street shooter case during a press conference on Monday. Saucedo has been booked for 12 shooting incidents and nine fatalities that occurred from August 2015 to July 2016.
That total includes the newly linked shooting death of 22-year-old Jesse Olivas, who was killed in a drive-by shooting near 59th Avenue and Encanto Boulevard in the early morning of January 1, 2016 (the incident was widely reported as the first fatal shooting of 2016 in Phoenix).
Not far from where Sanchez lives, at the Desert West Community Center and Park near 65th Avenue and Encanto Boulevard, families gather on a Monday night, only hours after the police press conference, for a youth-league soccer practice.
Most of the parents and coaches, however, seem only vaguely familiar with the Street Shooter case.
“It’s great news that they caught him,” one mother says, speaking in Spanish. She admits that she stopped paying attention to the case last fall, when it seemed to go cold.
One local who has been keeping up with the case, though, is Al DePascal, co-chair of the Maryvale Weed & Seed. Weed & Seed is a community revitalization program designed to weed out violent crime, gang activity, drug use, and vandalism.
“I’m feeling good today,” DePascal says.
DePascal helps lead monthly community Weed & Seed meetings at the Adam Diaz Senior Center in Maryvale. His group works closely with police to help curb crime, and officers regularly attend the monthly meetings.
He wasn’t surprised by the arrest of a suspect this week.
He’s in close contact with police, he says, and he’s watched the case break open in the past few weeks.
“We had the commander here last Tuesday,” DePascal says. “He gave a complete update on everything. They weren’t ruling out that he might’ve been the Freeway Shooter also. They were leaving the door open on that.”
DePascal won’t give any specifics, but says he’s been told by detectives that Silent Witness tips played a big part in breaking the case. He feels confident that police have the right man.
The biggest challenge with the Serial Street Shooter case was keeping it on people’s minds, DePascal says.
“I’ve been hounding them on it,” he says, referring to the Phoenix Police Department.
“I had a pretty good idea that things were going not in the right direction. The community was feeling more and more uneasy. We’ve been trying to keep it in the press.”
Does he feel a little safer today in Maryvale?
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“I don’t let these issues determine my life,” DePascal says matter-of-factly. “Life is what it is. You could walk out and get hit by a car … You just can’t live in fear all your life.”
Another Maryvale resident taking the Saucedo arrest in stride is the cashier working the late shift at the Walgreens Pharmacy near 67th Avenue and Thomas Road.
Asked whether she’s relieved that police have arrested Maryvale’s alleged Serial Street Shooter, she only laughs.
“Which one?” she asks. “We have a lot of shooters around here.”