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Three gang suspects in triple homicide at Visalia high school facing death sentences

Fresno Bee logo Fresno Bee 1/14/2022 Robert Kuwada, The Fresno Bee

Jan. 13—Visalia Police and law enforcement agencies on Thursday announced the arrest of three Sureño gang members in a May 2020 triple homicide in the parking lot at Golden West High, along with multiple other arrests on drug and weapons charges connected to a criminal enterprise stretching from the central San Joaquin Valley to Texas and into Mexico.

The three arrested in the killings were Mark Aceves, 20; Cesar Lopez, 19; and Abraham Molina, 20.

"First, the office filed one complaint charging three separate defendants with three separate counts of first-degree murder, along with the special circumstance of multiple murder," Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward said.

"Additionally, in regard to defendant Abraham Molina, we filed a special allegation of personal use of a firearm. It is alleged that defendant is the sole person who fired the murder weapon during this crime. The two remaining defendants are charged with the special allegation of a principal being armed during a crime. If convicted off all the charges in the allegation, each of these defendants faces a potential sentence of death.

"As this case progresses, our office will follow a longstanding process that we have established for determining if death will be the appropriate sentence."

The arrests come about three weeks after Gov. Gavin Newsom offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to arrests and convictions in the case.

The victims in the homicides were Jose Hernandez, Blake Medeiros and Isaiah Rule, who were fatally shot on May 5, 2020. Two of the victims were sitting in a vehicle at Golden West High, and a third was found nearby in the parking lot. All three were pronounced dead at the scene — Hernandez and Medeiros were 19 years old, and Rule was 18.

A $9,000 reward had been offered in the case and the Visalia Police Department said in October that it would apply for an additional $50,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the homicides.

$50,000 reward led to tips, leads in case

Newsom on Dec. 20 announced the $50,000 reward in the case, as well as the unsolved case of Jacqueline Flores, who was shot and killed while sitting in her car in southwest Fresno with her 6-year-old daughter in the backseat, and unsolved killings in San Pablo and unincorporated Butte County.

"I think the reward certainly helped," Visalia Police Chief Jason Salazar said Thursday. "Each time we were able to put a release out, it certainly generated different types of tips and leads. That reward still is available, so, while we made a number of arrests today, we are still continuing to work this investigation.

"We know that there are more witnesses out there. We know that there are people that have more information; and we're certainly still trying to identify who they are and hoping they will come forward with information that will only help this prosecution as it moves forward. But we're also very confident that we have arrested the three individuals responsible for this crime and that they will face justice."

In a joint operation that included the California Department of Justice, California Highway Patrol Special Operations Unit, Visalia Police Department, Tulare County Sheriff's Office, and the Tulare County District Attorney's Office and was called Operation Trailblazer, detectives identified several other Sureño gang members or associates allegedly involved in an effort to destroy evidence following the homicides.

Gang was importing guns, paying for those weapons with drugs

The operation also found gang members and associates were allegedly importing lawfully-purchased and stolen guns from Texas, paying for the weapons with methamphetamine and cocaine obtained from drug trafficking organizations in Mexico, and shipping them through the mail.

The firearms were then sold to local gang members or smuggled into Mexico in exchange for more drugs, authorities said Thursday.

U.S. Postal Inspectors were notified and coordinated with law enforcement agencies in Texas, the FBI, and the U.S. Attorney's Office to seize several packages that were found to contain 18 firearms and 20 pounds of cocaine.

Law enforcement officials on Thursday morning served 27 state search warrants, 18 state arrest warrants, five federal search warrants, and four federal arrest warrants. Additional arrests will be made in Oregon and Texas in connection with the Operation Trailblazer investigation.

There were 27 Sureños gang members or associates arrested including the three suspects in the triple homicide. There also were 24 firearms in an operation that started around 6 a.m., and over the course of the ongoing investigation there have been 37 arrests and 56 firearms seized.

This story was originally published January 13, 2022 4:13 PM.


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