Salinas police today identified Azahel Cruz as the 6-year-old boy fatally shot by a stray bullet as he played in his backyard Tuesday night.Police say it was likely gang members who fired the shot that struck Cruz in the yard in the 1000 block of East Laurel Drive at 6:12 p.m. Tuesday and a joint law-enforcement operation targeting gang members in the city was conducted today to send a message to those involved in the shooting.Cruz lived in a downstairs unit of his apartment complex. Officer Lalo Villegas said the bullet that killed Cruz was shot from Laurel Pocket Park, piercing a shared wooded fence and striking the boy, who was standing halfway between his kitchen and the edge of his backyard. When officers arrived, they found the child suffering from a gunshot wound to the head. He was taken to a hospital, where he died. Villegas said it appears Sureno gang members were targeted in the shooting. No arrests have been made in the case.He said the shooting was a drive-by based on a video investigators have obtained.The video was taken immediately after the shooting and shows what appears to be the suspect vehicle, a late 90s model silver or tan-colored Honda Accord.The Honda is shown driving east on Laurel Drive with a front passenger who police believe might be the suspect.The video also shows a boy in his teens who could potentially be a witness, Villegas said. He urged community residents to view the video posted on the Police Department’s Web site and Facebook page and to help identify and locate the suspects involved. Police also found a handgun at Laurel Pocket Park that may have belonged to one of the suspects, but it does not appear to be the same gun used in the shooting, Villegas said. One of the suspects may have been in possession of it and discarded it at the park after the shooting, he said.The park is in a high-crime neighborhood in the city’s eastside that has experienced several past shootings.In response to the child’s death, today officers from the Salinas Police Department, Monterey County Joint Gang Task Force, Monterey County Probation, California State Parole, California Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the FBI, carried out multiple searches of Sureno gang members and their residences. Villegas said it was done “to send out a message to these gangsters that may be possibly involved.”About 80 law enforcement personnel searched more than 40 people and locations. The actions yielded 10 arrests and the recovery of one semi-automatic firearm, Villegas said.Anyone with information on the shooting is urged to call the Salinas Police Department’s detective division at (831) 758-7226, Detective Tom Larkin at (831) 758-7127 or Robert Van Blarcom at (831) 758-7276.
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