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Covering the Sacramento Mass Gang Shooting

Thoughts about reporting on the deadliest single episode of gun violence in Sacramento history.

PUBLISHED MAY 6, 2022 12:00 A.M.
The scene of the K Street shooting in downtown Sacramento, in which six people were killed.
The scene of the K Street shooting in downtown Sacramento, in which six people were killed. Graham Womack

It was just before 9 a.m. on a Sunday and I had just had breakfast in bed in a cabin owned by my in-laws in Emigrant Gap, Calif. when my phone rang.

On the other end, a representative for the Washington Post asked if I might be available to cover a mass shooting in downtown Sacramento. Hours earlier, in the early morning of April 3, multiple gunmen had traded fire outside a nightclub, leaving six dead and another 12 people wounded.

Yes, I could help, I told the person on the phone, as I hastily pulled my clothes on. Within five minutes, I was on Interstate 80, heading back to Sacramento in my Prius.

The next four days would be a blur for me. But as high-octane and occasionally stressful as they were, they also reminded me how intense interest in mass shootings can be–and how quickly everything is forgotten before it happens again.

A Continuing Legacy of Violence

The K Street shooting, as it quickly came to be called, was far from America’s first mass shooting in 2022. It’s just the beginning of May as I write this and already mass shooting incidents from this year fill seven pages at Gun Violence Archive.

That would mean we’re on-pace to fill about 21 pages at that website, some of the incidents with a sufficient number of victims that they’ll be somberly memorialized for a time, others that will barely register a blip in the national consciousness. It’s just the way it goes in America, where we long seem to have become inured to mass shootings as collateral for having permissive gun possession laws.

Read: Sacramento shooting leaves 6 dead and at least 12 injured | Sacramento police arrested ‘related suspect’ in shooting that killed 6 | Police arrest a third person in Sacramento mass shooting

While I was not present for the most chaotic hours immediately after the shooting, when police had yet to set up a large perimeter, it wasn’t hard to sense raw emotions. As I drove back to Sacramento, I had spoken with a member of the city council, Katie Valenzuela, whose district the shooting occurred in.

I’ve interviewed Valenzuela numerous times as a freelance journalist and she usually is full of enthusiasm, policy knowledge, and a bent for social justice. On this morning, she sounded exhausted and started crying during the brief time we were on the phone. I would see her in tears multiple times over the next two days.

After briefly stopping at my home, which is just north of downtown, to grab my reporter’s notebook and throw on fresh clothes, I drove the six or eight minutes into downtown, parking near I and 10th Street. It was around 10:20 a.m. by this point, so I interviewed people coming out of the Citizen Hotel who had heard the shooting. One person told me they had heard of someone running down the street, yelling that their baby had been shot.

Police would release the names the following day of the six people killed: Sergio Harris, 38; Devazia Turner, 29 (spellings have differed for his first name); Joshua Hoye-Lucchesi, 32; Melinda Davis, 58; Johntaya Alexander, 21; and Yamile Martinez-Andrade, 21.

Finally Confirmed Gang-Related

Two days after that, police would note that the shooting was gang-related and involved two groups of men, with Hoye-Lucchesi seen in a video hours before the shooting with one of the people arrested in connection with it. I would also see in court files two days after the shooting that Sergio Harris had been a longstanding validated gang member.

So far, police have arrested two people in connection with the shooting, brothers Smiley and Deandrae Martin, and are seeking a third, Mtula Payton. All have been charged with murder. I learned from court files that Payton and Devazia Turner, who was killed,  had a pending case for illegal firearm possession at the time of the shooting.

In the hours immediately following the shooting, though, people were still looking to protect the reputations of the recently-deceased and their families.

Down the street from a press conference that city leaders including Mayor Darrell Steinberg held at 11 that morning, I spoke with Harris’s first cousin and her aunt and was urged to not pay much mind to Harris’s criminal history, which I would later learn included 13 cases in the Sacramento Superior Court system and a murder acquittal from approximately 2016.

One of the major challenges in covering stories like this is to not unfairly cast blame on people killed in the shooting such as Harris, but to also try to get as quickly as possible to the truth of what happened.

I sensed almost immediately in covering the shooting that it was gang-related, but it is one thing to privately have this sense as a reporter and quite another to have proof enough to write it. So I chased whatever leads I could over the next few days, sent off anywhere from a few paragraphs to a few hundred words at a time to the people I was working with at The Post, and waited as official sources released more information.

On K Street, Bodies on the Ground

After things wrapped up downtown, I went Sunday afternoon by UC Davis Medical Center, the region’s only Level I trauma center, and learned that four people from the shooting were hospitalized there. I also caught three men coming out of the center together and got a terse “No comment” from one of them.

Later that day, I attended a Sacramento Police press conference, where one media member asked about bodies still being out on the ground. Some bodies would reportedly lie on the street until as late as 9 p.m. Sunday night. I know I saw barriers for at least two bodies while I was out Sunday morning, one at the corner of 10th and J streets and the other further down 10th Street.

There was also a candlelight vigil Monday evening organized by both city and community leaders and where another of Harris’s cousins spoke, trying in vain to claim, ahead of reporters like myself being able to see Harris’s files at the courthouse, that his cousin wasn’t a gang member or a drug dealer.

On Tuesday, my last full day covering the shooting for The Post, I attended the hearing for the first person arrested in connection with the shooting, Deandrae Martin.

The following day, I did a web story for the San Francisco Chronicle about how K Street restaurants were handling the shooting and that was that. I haven’t written about the shooting since, save for this piece.

As I write these words, it’s been just over four weeks since the shooting. I’m amazed at how quickly it’s faded from memory.

Then again, it was like this with another incident of mass violence in city history, when a disgruntled former security guard named Joseph Ferguson killed five people and then himself in early September 2001. The 9/11 attacks wiped that story out of local news.

There was also the April 1991 hostage crisis at a then-Good Guys! electronics store that ended with three hostages and three of the four hostage-takers dead. I was in second grade at the time, in nearby Land Park, and have a faint memory of my teacher saying she’d taught one or two of the hostage-takers, who were young Vietnamese immigrants, and that they’d been bad students.

Quickly as these horrific incidents happen, they seem to be pushed down below public consciousness, the shock and trauma dissipating after a few days as the news cycle moves on.

As a full-time freelance writer, I accept this course of events and am generally willing to take work as it comes. But I can only hope that incidents like the one that rousted me from the mountains spur lasting change so this cycle can abate.

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