Fresno police look into gang connection after shooting at football party leaves 4 dead, 6 wounded

James Ward, Sheyanne N Romero, John Bacon and Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY

FRESNO, Calif. – Police are investigating whether there's a connection between an increase in local gang activity and the shooting Sunday night that left four people dead and six wounded at a backyard football-watching party.

Law enforcement officials are attempting to prevent retaliation after an attack by at least two unidentified assailants in a residence populated by members of the Southeast Asian Hmong community, who have a large representation in the part of Fresno where the shooting occurred.

There have been no arrests and the gunmen remain on the loose, police said.

Fresno Police Chief Andrew Hall said there were 16 adult males in the backyard at the time the suspects entered through an unlocked gate carrying semiautomatic handguns and started spraying bullets, hitting 10 victims.

Fresno shooting: What we know

The Fresno County coroner’s office identified the dead as Xy Lee, 23; Phia Vang, 31; Kou Xiong, 38; and Kalaxang Thao, 40, all of Fresno.

The wounded range in age from 28-36; two of them remain at a hospital in stable condition, Hall said.

Pao Yang, CEO of the Fresno Center, said two of the victims were well-known entertainers in the Hmong community.

Hall made it clear the aggression was premeditated, though it seems no specific individuals were picked out. The motive remains unknown.

“This was not a random act. It appears this incident was a targeted act of violence against this residence,'' Hall said. "We are investigating leads, and we do have information that possibly some people at this party were involved in a disturbance earlier this week.’’

Hall said there have been three incidents in November and a total of 11 this year involving Asian gangs, although he stopped short of saying Sunday's carnage belonged in that category. The police department is creating a gang task force to investigate this incident and try to prevent future violence.

"There’s no indication that this residence or anyone at the residence were affiliated with a gang,'' Hall said. "However, whenever we have a major incident like this, we always look toward criminal gang activity.’’

Fresno Police investigate a shooting Nov 18, 2019.

The rampage erupted around 6 p.m. local time Sunday at a backyard party where about 30 people had gathered to watch the Los Angeles Rams-Chicago Bears football game on TV, police said.

"There were several kids and females in attendance at this party," Deputy Chief Michael Reid said. “Thank God that no kids were hurt."

Police interviewed neighbors and sought surveillance video that might reveal the number of shooters or the car they arrived in. Hall said they fled on foot.

Hall described the 10-block neighborhood as "middle class'' and said it's not usually a trouble spot, although residents pointed out this is the second shooting incident in recent weeks.

Mary Lou Martinez said she and her granddaughter were taking their nightly walk around the neighborhood Sunday night when Martinez heard more than six shots fired.

Martinez, who has lived in the area for a year, said the sound scared her, but the granddaughter brushed the gunshots off as fireworks.

A few minutes later, Fresno police cruisers flew past them, sirens flashing.

“It’s scary because my granddaughter and I go walking at 8 p.m. almost every night,” Martinez said. “I don’t think we’ll do that for awhile.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., released a statement addressing the shooting: "The daily tragedy of gun violence continues to inflict terror and violence into communities across the country. Americans deserve real action to keep them safe, but Republicans continue to obstruct meaningful, bipartisan solutions to protect our children and communities. No one’s political survival is more important than the survival of our children.''  

Fresno City Councilman Luis Chavez, who represents the neighborhood, called the carnage a “senseless and criminal act" that did not reflect what a neighbor described as a quiet community.

“Our officers are working diligently to piece together the sequence of events that led up to this, but more importantly to bring all those involved to justice,” Chavez told the Fresno Bee.

Choua Vang told the Bee his next-door neighbor’s house was shot at last week. He is considering moving away.

“It makes me feel unsafe to be outside when the sun’s down,” he said. “We don’t know how many more shootings there will be.”

This is the third high-profile shooting in California in less than a week.

Last Thursday, a 16-year-old student at a Southern California high school shot and killed two classmates and wounded three other teens before fatally shooting himself. Saturday, police in San Diego said a husband shot and killed his wife and three of their sons before killing himself. A fourth son wounded in the shooting was on life support, family members said.

Bacon reported from McLean, Va. Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fresno, California, Sunday night football shooting: 4 dead, 6 wounded