News

IMAGE IS EVERYTHING

Page 4 of 10

Those still outside then hear arguing, expletives, coming from Palm Lane. "At first," Suzzane Rivera says, "we said, 'Oh, somebody's fighting,' and we paid it no mind. But it got louder, and louder, and it was, like, next to our fence. . . . So we got up [on the table] again. And we saw a guy and a girl, and he had a gun to the girl's head. And then I said, 'Hey, he's gonna kill her.'"

Alex Contreras, on the other hand, says the arguing is just a backdrop, that instead, he and Richard Ayon and Tommy, who were sitting on the other side of the bonfire, hear someone outside the fence talking at them, cussing and saying in Spanish, "Here's Hollywood," a reference to the Hollywood street gang. They climb up on the table. Alex sees a short, stocky guy and a couple arguing behind him, so he and Tommy tell him: Hey, there's nothing but raza here--why don't you go back where you came from and just have a good time?

The trash talker only gets more belligerent.
"This guy--he didn't know who we were," Alex Contreras recalls. "He didn't know who was back there [behind the fence]. So I knew he had to have a gun or he was very stupid."

Alex turns and tells Rhonda Deleon and Suzzane Rivera: Get the kids, there's gonna be trouble.

Suzzane Rivera says she hears a click from the street, "like he cocked back the gun, and I said, 'That's it, I'm calling 911.'" She runs in. She doesn't know who rounded up the kids; her concern was for the girl in the street. She pries Sena off the phone, calls 911 and describes the scene in the street, a conversation her daughter recalls overhearing.

When Alex turns back around, he sees Richard Ayon trying to climb over the fence to confront the guy in the street. "He couldn't take any more, I guess," Alex says. "He took a step off the table and put a foot to the wall and put one foot over the fence." Alex and Tommy pull him off the fence, Tommy still atop the table bench, Alex and Richard on the ground now, and Josie is just stepping out the arcadia doors to yell for her husband to come down when Alex notices Tommy sort of quickstepping it toward the other end of the table.

Suzzane Rivera hears gunshots, two of them, boom, boom, then a bunch of louder ones.

Having warmed up Rhonda Deleon's 1967 Chevy truck on their way to go buy gum and cigarettes, Carl Rivera and Tony Deleon are backing out of the driveway when they hear the shots, too.

In the backyard, Alex Contreras says he hears three shots. He sees Tommy fall to the ground flat on his face. He feels a powerful sting in his jaw, like somebody slugged him. He realizes what has happened; he instinctively pulls out his .45. It has never been used for anything but target practice. Tracing the muzzle flashes, he fires back into the darkness.

Inside the house, Suzzane Rivera is saying to the 911 operator, where are you? He killed her, he killed her.

But people are running inside now and screaming, he's shooting at us. She tells the operator, oh, my god, he's killing us, he's killing us.

Richard Ayon is putting out the bonfire, to drown out the backyard silhouettes, visible from outside.

The door handle on the old truck is broken, and Carl Rivera has to roll down the passenger window to get out. He and Tony Deleon see the Riveras' 51st Drive neighbor at the time, Adam Tarango, hopping the fence and running across the yard toward the sound of the gunfire.

Bloodied, with a slug fragment in his jaw, Alex Contreras comes inside the Rivera house, his wife, Betty, seeing him for the first time since the shooting began. Alex's father died of a head wound a decade ago, a stray bullet into his bedroom on New Year's Eve. Now she sees blood all over her husband and becomes hysterical. "I thought, 'Oh, my God, he's gonna die just like his dad,' and I don't know, I just went crazy."

Adam Tarango, the neighbor, looks down Palm Lane, and later tells police he sees a girl pushing a Hispanic guy toward a house about two houses away from the Rivera home. He sees the grip of what he figures to be a large handgun sticking out of the guy's pocket, white Levi's, white tee shirt.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Marc Ramirez