San Diego

Deadly Shooting Highlights Gang Violence in Escondido

People who live in the area say gang violence has been an issue for years.

A death of a woman killed in a gang shooting is shedding light on gang violence in the neighborhood, and how the community is dealing with it. 

On Tuesday around 9 p.m., 55-year-old Escondido resident Catherine Kennedy was driving east on Grand Avenue when she was struck by a stray bullet, causing her to lose control of the car and crash into an unoccupied, parked vehicle, police said.

Kennedy was a volunteer youth minister at St. Timothy's. Her husband, Kevin is involved in the religious education program. She is survived by her husband and 24-year-old daughter, Alicia De La Rosa.

"I was devastated," said Kennedy's friend Teri Cudmore. "There are just no words. I am hoping that it is none of my teens I taught in the past."

Cudmore joined several other religious community leaders and St. Timothy's parishioners for a private prayer service for Kennedy Wednesday night.

"I felt it was necessary to pray for this totally unnecessary thing that has happened. It stunned us all,” friend Barbara McCoy said.

Police said gang members were shooting at each other in the 1800 block of E. Grand Avenue at the time.

“This was an innocent victim driving down the street we believe coming home from a church function and just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Escondido Lt. Justin Murphy.

Residents who live in the area told NBC 7 that gang violence has been an issue for years. The violence can be stiffling: many residents did not want to speak on camera with NBC 7 or identify themselves for fear of retaliation.  

For a period of time, residents said, things were pretty bad: rival gangs were fighting and inciting violence. 

Then, several months ago, police started patrolling the area and things improved, residents say - but the problem persists. 

Escondido Police say they have talked to City staff and they are cracking down on registered gang members. 

Lt. Justin Murphy said in his 19 years with the department, he has never seen a shooting like this before.

“We generally have a gang problem but I would not say it’s this kind of violence that we’re used to seeing in Escondido," he said. "This is certainly outside of the norm for what we generally see on a daily or weekly basis in Escondido. It’s not something we’re used to seeing.”

A mom in the complex, who did not want to be identified, said that as soon as it gets dark, she avoids going outside. 

Another concern for some are the kids playing outside.

"They actually play outside and they play," one resident, who did not want to be identified, told NBC 7. "That's their little green thing, that electrical box, that's their table and play games and stuff like that. So it's a tragedy, if it would have happened earlier, one of those babies could have gotten hit. We're talking elementary school kids from Oak Hill."

Veronica Urrutia lives near where the shooting took place but was not at home at the time.

Urrutia said there has been gang violence in the area but she’s never heard of shooting from a vehicle.

“That’s so sad. Innocent people just dying like that I think is just sad,” she said.

Barbara Allen has lived in the same apartment for seven years and said the violence has increased over the last year.

“It’s gotten ridiculous on the street,” Allen said.

“What do you do,” she asked.

Word of Life Church, located just a block away from where the shooting happened, is tagged by gangs regularily. On Wednesday, demonstrating Parishes, who did not know Kennedy, were sending a message to the neighborhood.

“We're here to let our community know that we are here for you. We also speak to the gang members of Escondido, please stop the violence,” Word of Life Church pastor Mark Madore said.

The suspects in the shooting have not been identified yet. Escondido police have asked the public for help to solve the crime.

Police are also asking for the community to call them with any information on gang activity. There is an anonymous tip line, for people who may be fearful of speaking out. 

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