A single gunman acted on a case of “mistaken identity” when he shot and killed Jaime Jesus Gomez and Daniel Eli Gonzalez and injured three other people at a home on the edge of the city’s downtown March 26, according to police.
Hollister Police Chief Carlos Reynoso announced at an April 1 press conference at the police station that Alfredo Zendejas, 28, had been arrested in San Jose and booked at San Benito County Jail the previous evening on suspicion of shooting into the crowd at a family gathering on Rustic Street, resulting in the deaths of Gomez, 23, and Gonzalez, 21. Zendejas is accused of two counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder in relation to the March 26 drive-by attack, police said.
When police conducted a search warrant at the residence where Zendejas was staying, they found a number of firearms, ammunition, magazines and bulletproof vests, according to Reynoso.
Although Zendejas is a former member of a criminal street gang, none of the five victims were affiliated with gang-related activity and were “innocent bystanders,” Reynoso said.
“There is evidence to suggest he was targeting an individual that may be associated with that home and mistook one of the victims as that individual,” Reynoso said. “We have no record of any of (the victims) being in any gang.”
Gomez and Gonzalez were cousins, according to family members who spoke at the press conference. Ardyss Golden, Gonzalez’s grandmother, said Daniel and other family members were raised at her home, and they went to church together.
“Daniel was a very good and kind person,” Golden said. “I don’t think there would be anybody that won’t tell you what a kind family this is and how much they cared about one another, and how much they worked to take care of each other.”
She added that Gonzalez’s father was “absolutely, incredibly against (his kids) being involved in any kind of gangs.”
Jaime Gomez’s father, Alex Gomez, said his son had just returned home from work when the shots rang out on the 300 block of Rustic Street. Jaime and Daniel played basketball together on a youth team that Alex coached, and at the time of his death Jaime had been working toward his goal of buying a vehicle.
“Our kids were not gang members. They were hard-working kids,” Gomez said.
He added, “It’s sad, but I want to thank everybody that has reached out. It’s heartwarming—people that came to (support) us that I don’t even know. It just says a lot about our boys. (Jaime) was a great kid, and I’m going to miss him dearly.”
Later on April 1, family members held a candlelight vigil at the home where the victims had been shot. Nearly 200 people attended as Father Heibar J. Castaneda of Immaculate Conception in Tres Pinos joined the victims’ parents in handing out votive candles. Some attendees wore t-shirts honoring Gomez and Gonzalez, and others prayed silently in front of two makeshift memorials set up for each of the fatal victims outside the home.
After Castaneda led a prayer, Golden and others led a brief march up the street and back to the home with their candles burning.
“We as Christians believe in love, and we believe in forgiveness, and we believe in reconciliation,” Castaneda said. “We believe that we are brothers and sisters, that we are called to treat each other with respect, with kindness, to understand each other, to be patient with each other and to be tolerant of each other.”
Police at the April 1 press conference said the five victims were related as cousins and half brothers. About 10-15 people were gathered outside the Rustic Street home at the time of the March 26 shooting. They had gathered there after spending time together at an earlier event, according to police.
The three injured victims were transported to area trauma centers the night of the shooting. They are expected to survive their injuries, and some had been released by April 1, Reynoso said.
Initial reports indicated the suspected shooter was driving a dark colored SUV that approached the home before shots were fired. Investigators reviewed surveillance camera footage from the neighborhood and from homes and businesses down the street.
“We received a tremendous amount of cooperation from the families and witnesses,” Reynoso said.
Detectives learned that the suspect’s vehicle had been in downtown Hollister just before the shooting, and Reynoso said they used footage from the city’s camera system to identify the SUV. From there, police were able to “track down” Zendejas and connect him to his residence and workplace in San Jose.
Hollister Police worked with San Jose Police, San Benito Sheriff’s deputies and other authorities to conduct surveillance on Zendejas in the days after the shooting. “Eventually we were able to arrest him and conduct a search warrant of the home,” Reynoso said.
In addition to charges of murder and attempted murder, Zendejas is accused of being a felon in possession of firearms, ammunition, magazines and ballistic vests, police said. Investigators think he was the only suspect involved in the March 26 incident.
Detectives added that Zendejas used an automatic rifle to shoot the victims, and released a photo of the weapon.
While acting on the search warrant, police also recovered the vehicle that Zendejas allegedly used in the shooting, authorities said.
Police at the press conference described Zendejas as a former member or “dropout” of the Norteno street gang. He might have targeted the Rustic Street home out of a “personal vendetta” against someone he thought was associated with the residence, police said.
Zendejas is also a former resident of Hollister and has been arrested by the city’s police a number of times in recent years. Reynoso declined to offer details about Zendejas’s criminal background. According to Hollister Free Lance archives, Zendejas was charged with felony burglary in 2018, and with vandalism and burglary in 2012.
He has previously lived on Sierra Court, according to the archived Free Lance stories.
Reynoso was joined at the April 1 press conference by HPD detectives Thomas Torres and Bryce Morgan, Sheriff Eric Taylor and San Benito County Assistant District Attorney Ellen Campos.
“We offer our condolences to the Gomez family and the Gonzalez family,” Reynoso said.
Zendejas’s motive and other circumstances surrounding the March 26 shooting are still under investigation, police said. Anyone with information about the incident can call Hollister Police at 831.636.4331. Those wishing to remain anonymous may call WeTip at 800.78.CRIME. Information provided to WeTip may qualify for a reward.