Click to view image: 'Alex Moreno '
Click to view image: 'Juan Meza '1st Photos of Moreno, Meza Released; Meza's Gang Background Revealed
Juan Meza, 28, of Cathedral City, sported a tattoo that read "VMV," indicating that he belonged to a gang called Varrio Mecca Vineyards, Riverside County District Attorney's Office spokesman Michael Jeandron said.
Meza and Alejandro Moreno, 39, of Desert Hot Springs, died in the late-morning shooting inside the store on Highway 111 and Fred Waring Drive on Friday -- the traditionally busy start of the holiday shopping season.
The gang "VMV" had a strong presence in Indio about 12 years ago, but it has been largely displaced by a gang prevention housing program, said Ben Guitron, a spokesman with the Indio Police Department.
"VMV was part of a complex that used to be called Mecca Vineyard Apartments, where we had a concentration (of gangs) about 12 years ago," Guitron said. "Now they are a bunch of nomads."
The low-income complex, located at 83385 Gemini St. near the Davis Sports Complex, has since been remodeled and no longer houses a concentration of "VMV" members, Guitron said.
That's because about 12 years ago, Indio implemented a program to root out gangs -- called the Crime Free Multi-Housing Program, he said.
"We get a commitment from the property owners they will get quality tenants and they will have a zero tolerance on graffiti, gang activity, narcotics activity," Guitron said. "If the tenant's associates are involved in an investigation with police, that will break their lease."
He speculated that may be the reason why Meza had the "VMV" tattoo, but lived in Cathedral City.
Guitron said the program has been effective, with 43 apartment complexes taking part in the program. The police departments of Cathedral City, La Quinta, Palm Desert and Palm Springs also use the program, according to the La Quinta Police Department's Web site.
"We love it because it's not a solution, it's a tool we use," Guitron said.
Guitron admits that some gangs, such as "VMV," may have not gone away, but simply dispersed throughout the valley.
"The VMV gang has been displaced, but it doesn't mean they are not there," Guitron said. "They tend to associate themselves with other gangs."
But he said the program has still contributed to a reduction in gang activity.
"Twelve years ago there were about 12 gangs (in Indio)," Guitron said. "Now we have about four."
According to court records, Meza has a criminal record dating back to at least 2002.
Meza pleaded guilty in March to being a felon in possession of a firearm, according to court records. He pleaded guilty to the same charge in November 2007.
In September 2005, Meza pleaded guilty to assault with a weapon, and in 2002, he pleaded guilty to possessing a controlled substance for sale while armed, according to court records.
Records show that Moreno had a criminal record spanning back to 1998, when he pleaded guilty to inflicting corporal injury on a spouse. As part of the plea deal, charges of assault with a deadly weapon, criminal threats and willfully harming a child were dismissed.
Moreno and Meza shot each other to death as parents and children shopping for holiday gifts jammed the store, said Riverside County sheriff's Sgt. Dennis Gutierrez. Two guns were recovered near the men's bodies.
Witnesses said the men were with two women who got into a fight that escalated into the fatal shootings, which sent terrified shoppers and their children scrambling for cover.
Tags: Black Friday, Toys, R, us, Shooting, VMV, Mecca Vineyards, Indio, California
Location: Palm Desert, California, United States (load item map)
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