A 13-year-old boy who was fatally shot while heading home from his grandmother's house in Santa Cruz on Wednesday night has been identified as Joey Mendoza, according to a Santa Cruz County Office of Alternative Programs employee.
Police were called to the 100 block of San Lorenzo Boulevard just after 8 p.m. and found two off-duty medical professionals trying to resuscitate Mendoza, after seeing him fall to the pavement as he ran back toward his grandmother's house, Deputy Chief Rick Martinez said.
Police said Mendoza was walking toward the Santa Cruz Metro Center less than half a mile away when he was shot by someone in a vehicle, Martinez said. He died at the scene.
"People are taking it very hard here," said Bryan Wall, deputy superintendent at the Santa Cruz County Office of Higher Education.
According to Wall, Mendoza was in an alternative education program this summer where he had been getting help with academics. He was being mentored by someone who was helping him prepare for the upcoming football season.
"He was really actually improving. ... He was achieving, he was attentive, his attendance was good," Wall said.
When asked about police saying Mendoza was a known gang member, Wall said that as a former principal of Mission Hill Middle School, he knows how impressionable teens are.
"Peer influence is so important to them. ... They're easily swayed and making a lot of decisions about life," Wall said.
Mendoza was "known to be actively immersed and involved in gang activity," Martinez said, and members of the police gang unit knew the boy as an at-risk youth who was associated with the Sureno gang.
According to Martinez, police had contact with Mendoza as recently as Wednesday, the day of the killing, and had offered him a place in their Personally Responsible Individual Development in Ethics, or PRIDE, youth outreach program.
Mendoza declined the offer, Martinez said.
Police have found a white van that may be associated with the killing. The van had been reported stolen from Watsonville, Martinez said.
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