News

IMAGE IS EVERYTHING

Page 5 of 10

Rhonda Deleon comes inside the Rivera house, sits down, blank stare. I think they killed your friend, she says to Suzzane. Your friend from school. That kid who just got here.

Oh, my god, Suzzane Rivera screams to the operator. I have to go.
Carl Rivera now is at the side of the house, too, looking down Palm Lane. He looks over his fence and doesn't see anyone, not even Tommy, who is lying just on the other side. He glances down the street and sees a guy on the sidewalk two houses down, holding his arms out wide in provocation. "I didn't know if he was taunting me," he says.

He runs inside, sees Contreras with blood on his face. Contreras says, those guys are shooting at us. Carl Rivera goes to his room and gets his shotgun, takes it outside to the back and puts it inside an old Chevy, in case they come back.

Suzzane Rivera runs outside, sees Tommy on the ground, face down. Sena Rivera is outside now, too, screaming, Mom, don't let him die, do something.

Suzzane Rivera grabs Tommy's arms and tries to pull him toward the patio. Tommy, shot once near the base of his neck, grabs blindly, seizes her rosary and breaks it free of her neck.

Not knowing this, Tommy's grandmother, Connie, says later: "I think the good Lord gave him time to talk to Him, to say, 'Lord, if You're going to take me, I want to be ready.'"

The first officers arrive. One officer swings through the back gate, gun drawn, sees Carl Rivera wearing his bandanna, says, "You! Inside!" He does not say the same thing to Richard Ayon or Tony Deleon, who aren't wearing bandannas.

Josie Ayon is on the ground with Tommy, covering him with a blanket, trying to keep pressure on the wound. "Please," she says to the officer, "what do I do? Please help us."

The way she remembers it, he just shone a flashlight on her and said, "`Aw, you're doing all right. You're doing fine.'"

The paramedics arrive, do what they can. Tommy is taken away.
A couple of hours later, Suzzane Rivera is sitting in Detective Robert Mills' car, and the interview is over. He hands her his business card. It reads "Homicide."

"You mean he's dead?" she says.

At first, everyone is herded into the Rivera house. Everyone remembers the Ayons and the Riveras telling the officers to go to the other house, that the trouble came from over that way. The response was, yeah, yeah, go sit down, somebody will be with you.

No one will say the gunfire was returned until Alex Contreras tells one of the officers, I'm going to be honest with you--I did shoot back. He tells them Josie Ayon put his gun away, and she finds it for them. A minute later, he's on a stretcher on his way to the hospital.

Carl Rivera tells the officers his shotgun is in the old Chevy but that it hadn't been fired. Suzzane Rivera says she has a gun in her room. Both are secured by officers.

The questioning starts right away. Suzzane remembers them asking: "First of all, 'What gang are you guys from?'"

"Everybody kept telling them, go over there, two houses down, that's where they came from," Carl Rivera says. "I was sitting right here going, 'God, how could this happen?' And this officer goes, 'Oh, you know how it goes, ese, you know how it is to be a gangbanger.' The sergeant told him [that officer], 'You apologize, and then you leave.'"

"Oh, he left," Suzzane says. "But he didn't apologize."
Betty Contreras is near the doorway, telling the officer there she wants to accompany her wounded husband. I just want to be with him, she says. Why can't you let me be with him? What if he dies and I'm not there because you won't let me be with him?

They keep pushing her back in, saying, go sit down, laughing, saying, man, did you see her? She's drunk.

"I said, 'Forget this,'" Betty Contreras says, "and I walked out the door and said, 'Somebody take me to the hospital.' And they said they were going to arrest me. They brought me back inside. I said, 'You can't keep me here. I want to be with my husband.'"

Josie Ayon finally grabs the keys and takes her.
Suzzane Rivera: "And Richard [Ayon] by this time had called Josie's brother-in-law to come pick up the kids, and he went to hand him the keys. They [the police officers] said, 'No,' and he said, 'I'm just handing him the keys,' and they got him in an armlock and put him face down. And they kept pushing him and telling him he was going to jail."

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