Understanding the Bloodbath in Goshen
Gang violence is rampant in the Central Valley. Three of its counties had the highest homicide rates in California as of 2021, with Tulare County ranking third.
When members of four generations of a family, including a 10-month-old baby, were killed in an execution-style last month in the small town of Goshen, Tulare County, even officials regularly called to investigate homicides were shocked. Locals said they were used to gang violence but that the gruesome nature of this attack was particularly worrying.
“It feels different,” Diego Velasquez, 18, a high school student who lives near Goshen, told the New York Times. “We’re watching the cameras in our house.”
Two men suspected of the murders were arrested on Friday. Law enforcement officials said they would continue to investigate the crime as the motives behind it are not yet entirely clear. The Tulare County Sheriff is also asking Gov. Gavin Newsom to lift a moratorium on the death penalty he imposed in 2019.
I spoke to Miriam Jordan, a reporter for The Times in Los Angeles who follows the killings closely. She spent some time in Goshen after the massacre and spoke to me about what she had learned about the attack, community and gang proliferation in the Central Valley.
Here’s our conversation, edited slightly for clarity and length:
What did we learn from Friday’s arrests? And what do we not know about this case yet?
According to the sheriff, two members of the Norteños were the perpetrators. They broke into this house and pursued the man allegedly involved in gang activity, killed him and then proceeded to rampage killing everyone else in sight.
The motive for the killing is not yet entirely clear. But it seems like there was some sort of dispute between Norteños and at least one member of that household who was a member of Sureños. It is not clear if a gang has crossed territory or if a gang is attempting to gain control of all territory. We just don’t know for sure yet.
Part of what seemed to shock people about this crime was that it happened in Goshen, a San Joaquin Valley town of 5,000 people. I think there’s a perception that gangs only exist in big cities.
In the minds of the American public, gangs are a thing of urban enclaves, not small rural towns. That was one thing that got me there – something you wouldn’t think would happen in a small town.
But for some time now, gangs and Mexican cartels have been moving into rural America to expand their drug markets, recruit new members and avoid detection by the authorities.
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There’s a good reason for this: people and drugs are easier to hide in sparsely populated areas. These rural Central Valley communities often border State Route 99 and I-5, which are major drug trafficking routes as they run south to north, from Mexico to Washington state and on to Canada. And then drugs are just as in demand in the country as in big cities.
You’ve described Goshen as a gloomy town with little going on, with a few fields and warehouses along Route 99. I imagine the proliferation of gangs there must have an economic factor.
These are impoverished communities where unemployment is high. If there are jobs, it’s poorly paid field and warehouse work. Some people take this route to earn a living through drug trafficking.
So there are a number of decentralized factions of larger gangs operating in these rural areas today. And in Goshen there is a dominant gang – the Norteños. And then there are some members of the Sureños gang, and bloody clashes sometimes break out between them. And it seems that’s behind the massacre of four generations of an entire family in this tiny working-class town.
Although there is gang violence in the Central Valley, you interviewed many people in the area who found this particular crime disturbing. Why did it seem unusual?
Because it was such a gruesome act, such a horrific massacre, it really shook this community that has learned to coexist with the presence of gangs. Gangs are holed up in this town, in this area now. Gang members do their thing – they don’t want to get caught selling drugs or attract the attention of law enforcement, so they try to stay under the radar.
When violence breaks out between them, sometimes innocent people get caught in the crossfire. But in this case, the mission appeared to be to kill an entire family to settle a major disagreement, and that included a grandmother, a teenage mother and a toddler, according to the county sheriff. This really shook the residents to the core.
Where we are traveling
Today’s tip comes from Isabelle Gaston, who lives in Berkeley:
“There are only a few weeks left until a beautiful and rare burrowing owl leaves its winter quarters on the waterfront of Cesar Chavez Park in Berkeley. This small and adorable bird (the size of a beer can) is a real eye candy.
For the owl’s location in the park, see the Chavez Park Conservancy website. Owl trainers are often there before 10am to help visitors find the owl (which is not easy given its small size and camouflage) and to explain why providing a safe haven for the owl is vital.”
Tell us about your favorite places in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We will share more in future editions of the newsletter.
We’re looking for recommendations on where to see the best art in California. Which galleries have you visited again and again? Which exhibits do you insist on taking all outside visitors?
Email us at CAToday@nytimes.com with your suggestions and a few lines why it’s your choice.
And before you go, some good news
You may have heard of Linda Lindas, the all-girl punk band made up of school-aged Angelenos.
They rose to fame almost two years ago after a video of them performing at the Los Angeles Public Library went viral. They have since opened for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and have appeared on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series. They will be performing at Coachella this year.
The Los Angeles Times recently asked the girls what their ideal day in Los Angeles would be like. Her dream trip included roller skating in Glendale, a trip to Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, and karaoke and pastries in Little Tokyo. Their perfect getaway would end like this, they said:
Lucy: Then we each got a pint of ice cream Jeni’s wonderful ice cream.
Mila: We’d better not have school the next day.
Bella: I like brambleberry crisp.
Mila: I like the Savannah Buttertermint one. This is seasonal but on our ideal Sunday they would have.
Lucy: Eloise likes the Brown Butter Almond Brittle. My favorite is Wildberry Lavender.
Mila: I would fall asleep during the movie and in the car. I would eat my ice cream later.
Thank you for reading. I will come back tomorrow. — Soumya
PS Here is today’s mini crossword.
Isabella Grullón Paz and Allison Honors contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.
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