By Erin Sherbert
By Howard Cole
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Leif Haven
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Kate Conger
Illustration by Yuko Shimizu
There were glass shards in the street, murdered family members in the car, sirens in the distance growing louder. The car with the gunman peeled off.
Twenty minutes earlier, that car was parked outside a Mission District house. Edwin Ramos was waiting for Wilfredo Reyes. He had called Reyes to tell him he was out front, but Reyes was taking forever. So he leaned back in his charcoal Chrysler 300 and soaked in the reggaeton pouring through the speakers. Ramos had gotten the car three or four weeks earlier; it still looked fresh off the lot.
It was a few minutes before 3 p.m. when Reyes climbed into the passenger seat. The day — Sunday, June 22, 2008 — had already been eventful. Three hours earlier, their mutual friend Marvin Medina was shot. Medina and his buddy Elgado Medrano, both MS-13 gang members like Ramos and Reyes, had been driving through the Mission when a Lexus and a BMW started following them. When the pair got stuck in traffic, the Beamer pulled up beside them and emptied a clip. Medina dived into the backseat, taking three bullets to the thigh and butt. Medrano, unhit, maneuvered the bullet-ridden Mitsubishi into a gas station on Cesar Chavez Street as the assailants drove off.
Reyes lived nearby, so they called him and he drove them to Highland Hospital in Oakland — staying in the city might have drawn more police attention to the gang. There was already plenty of heat on MS-13. The transnational criminal organization, formed in the early '80s in Los Angeles by Salvadorans who had fled the civil war ravaging their homeland, was known for its viciousness.
Who the fuck did this? the three young men seethed as they crossed the bridge. Could have been Norteños. Damn Chapos! Norteños, "Northerners" who were usually Mexican-American, were eternal rivals with MS-13 and other Sureños, "Southerners" who typically emigrated from Central and South America. Nah — Norteños wouldn't be cruising around in luxury cars like that. Probably was some Nieros, those entrepreneurial criminals who specialized in selling fake documents to immigrants. Bastardos! MS-13 had had a beef with the Nieros for a few months now. Nieros conducted business in MS territory, and the gang wanted a cut of the profits. The Nieros refused. Next thing you know, two Nieros were shot dead. Payback was inevitable.
After leaving the hospital, Reyes called Ramos to fill him in and told him to come pick him up when he got back to San Francisco. They'd known each other for three years and talked almost every day. Reyes, then 27, called the shots for the Pasadena Locos Sureños, one of the two MS-13 cliques in the Bay Area, and Ramos, then 21, ran with 20th Street, the other crew.
Reyes was always looking out for Ramos. Reyes helped him get a job at an auto body shop in South San Francisco. He even got Ramos out of an ass-kicking a couple years back. Thing was, Ramos wasn't the most dutiful gang member. He sometimes wore a red 49ers jacket — Norteños color. One time, he stepped in when a group of MS-13 guys were about to jump a Norteño who was his friend and neighbor. Ramos' disobedience merited a beating, which Reyes was supposed to lead. Reyes faked it, though, putting on a show that would have made Vince McMahon proud and leaving Ramos bruise-less. Reyes had saved Ramos' life, too. When gang leaders thought Ramos had jumped into the Pasadena Locos Sureños before officially jumping out of 20th Street, a mortal sin deserving the highest level of punishment in the MS handbook, Ramos' death was greenlighted. He would have been killed had Reyes not defused the situation.
So there they were in the charcoal Chrysler, a few minutes before 3 p.m. on what would become one of the most infamous days in San Francisco's crime history. They rolled southbound through the Mission in the final moments before their lives — and the lives of an innocent family — would disintegrate. Three civilians would die, for nothing more than being in the wrong place at the worst time. Ramos would end up with a life prison term. Reyes, an eyewitness to the murders who may have fired the gun, would flee town, going on the lam for four years. He'd become a wanted suspect, and yet would evade capture without much effort, spurring speculation that San Francisco authorities had turned a blind eye.
Ramos was fiddling with the CD player when he reached the stop sign on Maynard Street at the Congdon Street intersection, a hilly residential stretch of multi-story homes in the Excelsior District. Focused on flipping through songs, Ramos cut the corner turning left, nearly crashing into the green Honda Civic heading up Congdon. The Honda backed up to give the Chrysler space. The street was narrow and lined with parked cars, the typical San Francisco two-laner that could scratch a driver's side mirror if you're not careful. Ramos, his window rolled down, eased his vehicle around the Honda.