BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – Just this month, four teenagers have been killed in Kern County, their lives cut short in acts of violence increasing at a growing rate, according to law enforcement and community leaders.
Manuel Carrizalez, director of local non-profit Stay Focused Ministries, has spent the last 30 years walking around Bakersfield neighborhoods with the sole purpose of getting young people off the streets and curbing these types of violence. Carrizalez and his team hold community outreach events to spread messages of hope and peace.
“We started seeing things in the neighborhood that were uncommon,” said Manuel Carrizalez, Director of Stay Focused Ministries. “But now they have become common.”
Just ten days into the new year, three teens were shot and killed in a Lamont wine orchard near South Fairfax Road and Buena Vista Boulevard. The Kern County Sheriff’s Office identified them as Adrian Ochoa, 18, Raul Fernandez, 17, and Valentin Eli Ramirez, 16. According to the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, those killings were gang-related.
A week ago, Jose Flores Jr., 17, was fatally stabbed outside of Foothill High School as classes ended. The entire incident was captured on cellphone video and was shared across social media. Jason Cruz, 23, and a 17-year-old girl were arrested in connection with the killing. The Kern High School District Office brought grief counselors to the campus for Foothill High School students, and KCSO increased patrols outside of the school to ensure student safety.
Carrizalez says this killing is yet another reminder of the violence that’s been flooding the county.
“There’s an evilness that’s come to our city,” Carrizalez said.
However, in Kern County, homicides are nothing new. In 2018, the county saw a record-breaking 113 homicides, and last year, 96.
“There’s no definitive answer why homicide rates go up and go down,” Sheriff Donny Youngblood said in a Jan. 16 studio interview with KGET. “We ride that wave but it’s deeper than just shootings. This is a social problem that we have to deal with in our society.”
He went on to say the way to change the tide lies with our youth.
“Their character is defined by how they deal with adversity,” Youngblood said.
Carrizalez’s philosophy is based on that same sentiment. In 2005, Carrizalez launched Reach 4 Greatness, a mentoring program encouraging students throughout the county to live positive lifestyles.
“Everybody has potential,” said Carrizalez. “It’s the belief system that needs to rise up inside them. This is a community problem. It’s happening all over the city.”
According to our KGET Homicide Tracker, Kern County has recorded 11 homicides to start the year. At this time, the homicide investigation of the three teens shot and killed in Lamont is still under investigation and no arrests have been made. Anyone with information is urged to call KCSO at 661-861-3110.