Two Dead, Two Wounded in Eastside Shooting

Santa Barbara Police Claim Criminal Street Gangs Involved

Seventeen-year-old Angel Castillo (left) and 18-year-old Omar Montiel-Hernandez (right) were killed on January 3, 2021, in a shooting on the Eastside. | Credit: Courtesy

Two individuals were shot dead and at least another two were wounded in an incident police have said involved criminal street gangs on the lower Eastside of Santa Barbara shortly before 6 p.m. on Sunday. The two fatally shot have been identified as Angel Castillo, 17, a juvenile, and Omar Montiel, 18. 

Police are not disclosing the ages of the two gunshot-wound victims and whether they were adults or juveniles. Relatives of Castillo and Montiel have posted GoFundMe accounts to help the families raise the money necessary to cover the costs associated with the respective funerals.  The shooting took place at Liberty and Canada streets at around 5:40 p.m. Anthony Wagner, spokesperson for the Santa Barbara Police Department, said that one or more assailants opened fire and that all the gunfire appeared to have been fired in one direction. There’s no evidence, he stated, that the victims shot back. 

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Although the police have stated the shooting was involved with criminal street gang activity, they are not saying whether they believe rival gangs were involved or whether the violence was internally generated within one gang. Likewise, they are not saying whether they believe the victims themselves were gang involved, gang affiliated, or merely in the wrong place at the wrong time.  

Wagner emphatically denied reports that as many as two arrests have been made, characterizing them as “unequivocally false.” Wagner said the investigation remains ongoing and expressed confidence that security cameras — a ubiquitous fact of modern life — will provide leads to the case. Wagner declined to comment whether there was any connection between Sunday night’s shooting with another violent attack that took place on December 30 by Anapamu and De la Vina streets in downtown Santa Barbara. In that incident, an unidentified juvenile sustained life-threatening stab wounds but was taken to Cottage Hospital and survived. 

Santa Barbara Police officers meet on the hood of a car on South Canada Street late Sunday night.

Late Sunday night, Santa Barbara Unified School Superintendent Hilda Maldonado reached out to District 1 City Councilmember Alejandra Gutierrez — who represents the Eastside district — to offer whatever grief counseling services the school district could. Monday marks the first day of the new school year, and grief counselors from Santa Barbara High School had been poised to make the rounds. Ultimately, they stood down at the insistence of the police department for fear that the investigation might be compromised should the names of the victims be released too soon. With the release of their names on social media, those concerns were rendered moot. Instead, the school district will be offering counseling services for anyone in the community on the campuses of Franklin and Cleveland elementary schools. 

Longtime neighborhood activist Jaqueline Inda — who lives near the site of Sunday’s shooting — said she could hear the gunshots as they rang out and texted friends and relatives who lived nearby to determine if they were safe. Inda stated she was not surprised by the eruption of violence and expressed grim certainty that more was likely in store. In the wake of the pandemic, she stated the Eastside has been awash in crystal methamphetamine and heroin, adding that there’s been a spike in robberies, thefts, drug overdoses, and teenagers running away from home. With in-person schools effectively shut down and parents struggling to maintain employment, she said tensions giving rise to violence — gang or otherwise — have been mounting.  

Gang violence is not new to Santa Barbara; it has ebbed and flowed over the years since the 1970s. What is startling to many longtime observers of the gang scene, however, is the heavy-duty use of firepower. Two shooting fatalities, coupled with two wounded by gunfire, marks a significant escalation in the intensity of violence typically involved. Them coming on the heels of last week’s stabbing has authorities concerned. 

“I take it very personal,” said Gutierrez. “To have young people die in a violent way in the middle of the neighborhood will have a domino effect.” Not only were four young people in her district, but young kids were on hand to watch the emergency workers give them CPR to save their lives. Santa Barbara has more than enough resources and nonprofits to address problems that give rise to youth violence, Gutierrez said. “We have all the resources we need,” she said. “It’s time to put all the political BS aside and come together.” 

The free counseling services offered to children and families about the shooting are available at the Franklin Service Center. Counselors will be there daily from 3-5 p.m. to help anyone affected by the tragedy.

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