- Associated Press - Sunday, November 28, 2010

CATHEDRAL CITY, Calif. | The master-planned Palm Springs Country Club Estates rose from the Southern California desert in the post-World War II boom, promising weary veterans and their families a fresh start with a sign that oozed optimism: “Come buy your dream home.”

That promise abandoned this tract of dusty, single-story homes long ago, but its memory christened an unlikely legacy, one of the most notoriously violent Southern California street crews: the Barrio Dream Homes gang.

After a two-year calm, the notorious gang is again the focus of police after a recent drive-by shooting that killed two and left three wounded, including a 2-month-old baby boy. The infant’s father, who remains hospitalized with gunshot wounds, is a Barrio Dream Homes member, as is one of the dead, said police Lt. Chuck Robinson.

The Nov. 2 incident was the latest in a spike of gang-related crime in the Coachella Valley, a crescent of desert about two hours southeast of Los Angeles that boasts world-class Palm Springs golf and country clubs, alongside scrappy migrant-housing encampments that feed its agricultural engine.

Authorities have counted 19 homicides this year in the 45-mile-long valley, and a string of eight killings in Indio and Cathedral City — next-door neighbor to Palm Springs — in the past few months has police particularly on edge. In Cathedral City, a 16-year-old mother was shot in the head as she showed off her newborn to friends. And in Indio, two men in costume were fatally shot at a Halloween party.

“We’ve had gang activity like this in the past, but in the 26 years I’ve been here, I can’t recall this many killings in this short a period of time,” said Daniel Wilham, the vice chairman of the Coachella Valley Gang Task Force.

After local police chiefs worried about the renewed specter of gang-on-gang violence, the Riverside County Gang Task Force moved resources to the Coachella Valley to reinforce the 11 gang specialists who routinely patrol the area, said Capt. Cynthia Mayman, task force director. About 500,000 people live in the valley.

For Cathedral City residents, the shooting that targeted Barrio Dream Homes members after months of quiet is particularly worrisome. Gang culture forbids shooting at women and children, residents say, and they worry about retaliation that could spiral out of control.

A 12-year-old neighbor boy was walking home around dusk after playing the video game Modern Warfare at a friend’s house when he saw the shooting unfold on the sidewalk just outside his family’s front gate.

On a recent afternoon, the boy with a faint spattering of freckles and long, dark lashes pointed to where the two victims fell, steps away from his driveway. A memorial of dozens of candles, pictures and posters marked the spot.

“I was coming down the street,” he said, his voice barely audible and his eyes fixed straight ahead.

The Associated Press, which has a policy not to name crime witnesses who are minors, is not identifying the boy or his family.

His mother worries about her son, who has become withdrawn and silent since he witnessed death.

“He’s changed a lot from that day,” she says, as her son darts inside to change into a black memorial T-shirt emblazoned with a photo of 20-year-old victim and gang member Augustine “Menace” Garcia. “He’s very quiet and won’t answer when I talk to him.”

The Barrio Dream Homes gang, one of the most established, has a colorful history that stretches back generations to the first years after World War II and remains linked to three large Mexican families, according to court records.

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