Modesto California Faces Fatal Consequences of Iraq War

Modesto Bee

Article #1 of 2: Police Officer, U.S. Marine, Killed in Shootout

CERES, CALIFORNIA — It started as a seemingly simple and somewhat routine call Sunday night: a man was acting strangely at a liquor store.

Moments later, a burst of gunfire echoed through the normally quiet neighborhood. One Ceres police officer lay dying, another was critically wounded, and law enforcement was storming the scene by land and air.

Helicopters hovered above as police ordered people to go inside, lock their doors and turn off the lights.

Three hours later, another gun battle erupted, this one ending in the death of a 19-year-old Marine from Modesto,suspected of shooting the two officers.

Altogether, police and neighbors said Monday, dozens of bullets flew, shattering windows and piercing vehicles as residents hunkered down in terror.

“Brap-brap-brap-brap-brap,” said Anthony John Phillips, a 15-year-old boy who lives a block away, trying to describe the rapid gunfire. “I was scared. It was crazy.”

In the end:


  • Ceres police Sgt. Howard Stevenson, 39, was dead.
  • Andres Raya, who police say seemed determined to die rather than return to Iraq, was dead.
  • Ceres police officer Sam Ryno, 50, was hospitalized with multiple gunshot wounds. He was in critical condition Monday, and is expected to recover.

    Monday, detectives from sev-eral law enforcement agencies — from the Ceres police to the FBI — sifted through events leading to Sunday’s carnage.

    Officers were still struggling to figure out what drove Raya to fire on officers.

    “It was premeditated, planned, an ambush,” Ceres Police Chief Art de Werk said. “It was a suicide by cop.”

    De Werk said investigators are not ruling out other motives or accomplices, but believe that Raya, a Marine who had served seven months in Iraq, was concerned about the possibility of going back into combat.

    Raya returned to the United States in September and recently visited his family in Modesto.

    Julia Cortez Raya said Monday that her son served in Fallujah: “He came back different.”

    Raya told family members he did not want to return to Iraq. But his father said the family believed by the end of his holiday visit, Raya had decided to make the best of the 2½ years he had left in the Marines.

    He rejoined his unit at Camp Pendleton on Jan. 2. Sheriff’s Lt. Bill Heyne said Raya was last seen at Camp Pendleton Saturday.

    He reportedly told fellow soldiers he was going to get a quick bite to eat. Instead, he showed up in Ceres 24 hours later, armed with an SKS assault rifle. The rifle is a Chinese version of the weapon that Raya was trained to use in the Marines, Heyne said.

    Video cameras catch carnage

    The first moments of the three-hour drama were caught by video cameras at George’s Liquors, 2125 Caswell Ave., near Central Avenue.

    The tape shows Raya firing one round into the pavement of the store’s parking lot. He then walks into the store.

    According to police, Raya told the clerk that he had just been shot at and asked the clerk to call 911, Heyne said.

    Steven Marchant, working at the store Sunday night, said he was standing in front of the store when he saw Raya walking toward him from across the street about 8 p.m. Raya was wearing a poncho and yelling “how much he hated the world,” Marchant said.

    Marchant recognized Raya as a friend of the owner’s brother and a regular customer.

    Marchant went into the store when Raya stopped at the front door and asked him to call police.

    Another employee tried to calm Raya down. Then the employee realized Raya had a gun under the poncho. After Raya walked out, the employees locked the door and called police.

    Raya waited outside, a surveillance videotape shows.

    About 8:07 p.m., about two minutes after the call, Ryno and a police trainee pulled up into the parking lot of Jiro Tires Plus, a neighboring business that faces Central Avenue. The trainee’s name was not released.

    As the two officers peered around the corner of a building to locate Raya, a third officer pulled into the same parking lot. Raya opened fire on all three, hitting Ryno — who had stepped out from behind the building — several times in the leg and once in the lower back.

    Raya then rushed the trainee, firing several times but missing. The trainee and the third officer, whose name was not released, shot back.

    Raya ducked around the corner of George’s. After a few seconds, he saw Stevenson pull up in front of the liquor store. Raya opened fire again, shooting through the window of a white car in the parking lot and hitting Stevenson.

    He then ran out of view of the camera.

    Stevenson, lying injured on the ground, was shot twice in the back of the head, Heyne said.

    Witnesses: Raya appeared calm

    “I was walking in my back yard to use my spa when I heard a horrible grinding noise,” said Norm Travis, whose home is on Glenwood Drive, around the corner from George’s.

    “Then an alarm went off and there was a bunch of yelling and screaming and then another round of shots,” he said.

    “We knew that it was an automatic weapon,” said his wife, Karen Travis.

    Witnesses told police that after shooting the officers, Raya calmly walked east on Caswell and disappeared, either into a house or a back yard.

    Within minutes, officers from the Ceres, Modesto, Turlock and Newman police departments, as well as the Stanislaus and Merced sheriff’s offices and the California Highway Patrol, responded.

    Nearly one square mile of the city’s streets were closed as a CHP helicopter hovered and police officers and SWAT teams took positions around the neighborhood.

    Police officers began shooting out street lights to diminish Raya’s vision, officers said.

    Residents were told to lock their doors and turn off their lights, said Kim Rose, 25, who lives about one block from the liquor store. She had been in the store about 20 minutes before the shooting.

    “We heard a lot of gunfire, and I mean a lot of gunfire,” Rose said. “Then a few minutes later, police were walking up and down the street with guns drawn, yelling for everyone to go back in their houses.”

    George Newton, who lives two blocks from the store on Beachwood Drive, said his 42-year-old daughter was visiting him when the neighborhood was locked down. She wasn’t allowed to leave the home.

    “She slept on my couch last night,” Newton said. “She was stuck here until 4:30 a.m.”

    Some neighbors evacuated

    Across the street, the Garcia family was evacuated. Their home was believed to be directly behind the home in which Raya was hiding. Members of a SWAT team took over the Garcia’s house, Kandy Garcia said, positioning themselves in her back yard and on her neighbor’s bal-cony.

    “They were nice and professional but very firm and matter-of-fact,” Garcia said. “They said we had to leave now.”

    She grabbed her four children and stayed the night at her mother’s house.

    The CHP helicopter beamed its light into the yards of homes on the south side of Beachwood and north side of Caswell.

    After about two hours, officers began a slow house-to-house search, according to a press release issued Monday.

    “Our poor neighbors across the street were evacuated, so they locked their doors,” Norm Travis said. “Then about an hour later, the SWAT team broke down their front door to search for the suspect.”

    About 11:08 p.m., Raya jumped over a backyard fence from a home on Caswell and ended up in an alley between Glenwood and Myrtlewood drives.

    Police say he fired at four officers who were positioned at the Glenwood end of the alley, about 100 yards away. The officers fired back and struck him multiple times.

    He dropped his rifle but started running toward them. He motioned as if he was going for a second weapon, officers said, so they continued to fire.

    He fell to the ground and died at the scene.

    His body was still in the alley Monday afternoon as investigators worked the scene.

    Police said that an exact number of rounds fired by Raya and police had not been determined Monday evening, but it was probably more than 60.

    Police also released the liquor store video tape. De Werk said he wanted the public to see the tape so they could understand not only what happened but “what’s really going on in the world.”

    Bee staff writer Patrick Giblin can be reached at 578-2347 or 

  • Article #2 of 2: Funeral today for Iraq War Soldier

    A funeral Mass is scheduled today for Army Private First Class. Oscar Sanchez of Modesto, the 19-year-old man who was killed in action Dec. 29 in Iraq. The Mass will be at 9 a.m. at St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, with burial at St. Stanislaus Catholic Cemetery. According to the Army, PFC Sanchez opened fire on a suicide bomber, and his action saved other soldiers. He was the only soldier who died.

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