A makeshift memorial created near the Parraz family home in Goshen, Calif.Credit…Adam Perez for The New York Times
Gang violence is common across the Central Valley. Three of its counties had the highest homicide rates in California in 2021, with Tulare County ranked third.
Still, when members from four generations of one family, including a 10-month-old baby, were killed, execution-style, last month in the small town of Goshen in Tulare County, even officials regularly called to investigate homicides were shocked. Locals said that they were accustomed to gang violence, but that the grisly nature of this attack was particularly unsettling.
“This feels different,” Diego Velasquez, 18, a high school student who lives near Goshen, told The New York Times. “We’re watching the cameras at our house.”
On Friday, two men suspected of the killings were arrested. Law enforcement officials said they would continue to investigate the crime, as the motives for it still aren’t entirely clear. The Tulare County sheriff is also calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to lift a moratorium on the death penalty that he imposed in 2019.
I spoke to Miriam Jordan, a Times reporter based in Los Angeles who has been closely covering the killings. She spent time in Goshen after the massacre and talked to me about what she learned about the attack, the community and the proliferation of gangs in the Central Valley.
Here’s our conversation, lightly edited for clarity and length:
What did we learn from the arrests on Friday? And what do we still not know about this case?
Two members of the Norteños had been the perpetrators, according to the sheriff. They broke into this house and went after the man who was said to be involved in gang activities, killed him, and then went on this rampage and killed everybody else in sight.
The motive for the killing is not exactly clear as of yet. But it seems like there was some kind of dispute between Norteños and at least one member of this household, who was a Sureños member. It’s not clear if it was over territory that one gang overstepped, or whether one gang is trying to gain control of the whole territory. We just don’t really know yet.
Part of what seemed to shock people about this crime is that it happened in Goshen, a San Joaquin Valley town of 5,000 people. I think there’s a perception that gangs exist only in big cities.
In the American public’s imagination, gangs are a thing of urban enclaves, not of little rural towns. That was one thing that took me there — it’s something you wouldn’t think would happen in a small town.
But, for quite a long time now, gangs and Mexican cartels have been moving into rural America to expand their drug markets, to recruit new members and to evade detection by authorities.
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There’s good reason for that: You can more easily hide people and drugs in sparsely populated areas. These rural communities in the Central Valley often abut the State Route 99 and the I-5, which are major trafficking routes for drugs because they’re south to north, from Mexico all the way to Washington State and onward to Canada. And then there is demand in rural areas for drugs just like there is in big cities.
You described Goshen as a gritty town without much going on, with some farm fields and warehouses straddling Route 99. I imagine there has to be an economic factor in the prevalence of gangs there.
These are impoverished communities where unemployment is high. If there are jobs, they’re poorly paid work in the fields and in warehouses. Some people end up taking this path of making a living by dealing drugs.
So there are a bunch of decentralized factions of bigger gangs that are operating in these rural areas today. And in Goshen, there’s a dominant gang — the Norteños. And then there are also some Sureños gang members, and sometimes there are bloody confrontations between them. And it seems that that’s behind the massacre of four generations of an entire family in this tiny, working-class town.
Despite there being gang violence in the Central Valley, you interviewed many people in the area who found this particular crime disturbing. Why did it seem out of the ordinary?
Because it was such a grisly act, such a horrific massacre, it really shook this community that has learned how to coexist with the presence of gangs. Gangs are now entrenched in this town, in this area. Gang members do their thing — they don’t want to be caught selling drugs or draw law enforcement’s attention, so they try to stay under the radar.
When there is violence between them, at times innocent people are 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 teen mom and an infant, according to the county sheriff. That really did shake residents to their core.
The rest of the news
Drought: Many communities, especially low-income Latino residents, still have dry wells, and the recent deluge can’t bring much relief to the state’s depleted groundwater, CalMatters reports.
Homeownership: An expansion to the state’s mortgage relief program to help those still struggling through the pandemic will cover California homeowners’ second mortgages and loan deferrals, with a maximum total grant of $80,000, CalMatters reports.
In Opinion: A California activist sneaked into a gas chamber for hogs and installed three cameras. See for yourself what they show.
Living with roaches: A group of 100 tenants living in South Los Angeles have sued their landlord, Pama Properties, complaining of rampant vermin infestations, faulty plumbing, deficient electricity and heating, and other significant habitability problems, The Los Angeles Times reports.
Gustavo Dudamel leaving: The charismatic conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic will be leaving his post in 2026 to become the music director of the New York Philharmonic.
Hospital crisis: Fresno supervisors voted on Tuesday to formally end the county’s state of emergency declaration, despite warning the public their hospitals are “still at capacity or over capacity,” The Fresno Bee reports.
Police misconduct: Officials for the City of Vallejo intentionally, and with approval from a senior attorney for the city, destroyed evidence in multiple killings by the police as well as in nonfatal shootings, Open Vallejo reports.
Housing crisis: Mayor London Breed of San Francisco had promised $5 million to fix crumbling housing for homeless people, but more than six months after the money was made available, none of it has been spent to address repairs and infrastructure issues, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.
Nut hoarders: An exterminator inspected a home for mealworms and found that acorn woodpeckers had stored over 700 pounds of acorns stacked almost 25 feet high in the home’s chimney, The Press Democrat reports.
What we’re eating
Salmon fried rice.
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from Isabelle Gaston, who lives in Berkeley:
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
We’re looking for recommendations for where to see the best art in California. What galleries have you visited over and over? Which exhibits do you insist on taking all out-of-town visitors?
Email us at [email protected] with your suggestions, and a few lines on why it’s your pick.
And before you go, some good news
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Linda Lindas, the all-girl punk band made up of school-age Angelenos.
They shot to fame nearly two years ago after a video of them performing at the Los Angeles Public Library went viral. They’ve since opened for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and were featured on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series. They’ll perform at Coachella this year.
The Los Angeles Times recently asked the girls what their ideal day around Los Angeles would be. Their dream itinerary included roller-skating in Glendale, a trip to Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, and karaoke and pastries in Little Tokyo. Their perfect outing would end like this, they said:
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.
Isabella Grullón Paz and Allison Honors contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].