A gang dispute turned violent Thursday morning and an Ottumwa teenager was taken to a local hospital with a gunshot wound to the chest.
Joel Herrarte, 16, 16440 Highway 34 No. 39, was treated for his injuries and later released from Ottumwa Regional Health Center that afternoon. But that wasn’t the end of his day. Herrarte is one of nine people charged in connection with the morning’s events.
Two other 16-year-olds, Emmanuel Lopez, 725 N. Green Street, and Lorenzo Langarcia, 402 N. Sheridan Street, have been charged with attempted murder.
Seven other people, including Herrarte, have been charged with rioting. Those charged in addition to Herrarte are:
• Jairo Rodriguez, 16, 146 N. Willard Street
• Antonio Echeverria, 23, 1110 E. Second Street
• Benny Medina, 13, 1011 E. Second Street
• Ricky Medina, 17, 1011 E. Second Street
• Yolanda Saenz, 35, 1011 E. Second Street
• Juan Huerta, 22, 16440 Highway 34 No. 39
Attempted murder is a Class B felony and could carry up to 25 years in prison. Rioting is an aggravated misdemeanor.
Neighbors said the dispute began at East Second and Ash streets over windows broken out of two vehicles. Two groups confronted each other with baseball bats, they said, before things seemed to calm down. But the argument began again about 10 minutes later, and Herrarte was shot.
One neighbor said the assailant chased Herrarte, who ran onto the sidewalk before being shot in a driveway right in front of a child.
“That had to be so traumatic for her,” the mother said. “She’s never going to forget this.”
Ottumwa Police Chief Jim Clark said the shooting is gang related. Neighbors were convinced of gang involvement long before police formally made the announcement, and they are worried about another confrontation.
“I used to live in Iowa City,” said one neighbor, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. “There was a shooting there between two gangs, and a couple of weeks later, there was another one. There is always retaliation. That’s what I worry about.”
“You can’t tell who’s in gangs, or what gangs,” said another neighbor. “But when you see two groups walking toward each other, you’d better get out of the way. It seems the city is more interested in getting casinos to come here than what they should be looking at. Maybe this is what they need to wake them up, to see what’s happening to our kids who grew up here.”
As for what can be done by local officials, she said, she’s not sure.
“To be fair, the police do try. But I think it’s [beyond] that,” she added.
Police have acknowledged gang activity in Ottumwa for several years, much of it tied to illegal drug trafficking.
Clark praised residents in the surrounding neighborhood for their assistance in figuring out what happened on Thursday.
“We had some excellent cooperation from citizens. Without their help, it would have made it much more difficult,” he said. “I’m very pleased that we have citizens in our community who are willing to step up and help the police.”
The neighbors’ timeline of Thursday’s events matches what officials have from calls to 9-1-1. Clark said someone called police at 10:42 a.m. about a criminal mischief report involving the truck with its windows smashed out. Clark said the term criminal mischief, while official, is misleading. Most criminal mischief reports are random and police believe this incident was targeted.
At 11:23 a.m., police were called to the area again. Officers arrived to find Herrarte suffering from a gunshot wound.
Police made a forced entry to the rear of the house on East Second Street. Authorities went in with weapons drawn, including powerful rifles, because a gun was known to be involved. They later said at least one person had barricaded himself inside a room in the house.
Clark said everyone in the home was handcuffed and moved to the backyard as a precaution while police sorted the situation out. But authorities think there was only one shooter and they recovered a semi-automatic handgun believed to have been the weapon involved.
This does not appear to have been the first incident involving residents of the house, whom police said moved in less than a week ago. Parents said two neighborhood girls and a boy walking to a neighborhood store were threatened, then chased, by people allegedly involved in Thursday’s incident.
“This used to be a good neighborhood,” said one of the moms. “Our kids can’t even be out after dark any more. They used to go up to the school to play. Now there’s hypodermic needles on the ground and people fighting.”
Another neighbor agreed.
“It’s scary when you’ve got three kids and this [stuff] is going on outside.”