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March 27, 2023

Youth learn about gang violence at annual summit in Salinas

SALINAS — The annual Gang Prevention Summit on Jan. 26 featured many speakers from law enforcement and from the Boys and Girls Club. This year there was also a special speaker, Juan “Johnny” Gomez, who was present when two of his relatives were victims of gang violence.

Gomez was born and raised in Salinas. He attended Salinas High School, but wasn’t doing well there and would ditch school frequently.

“I was a truant and I couldn’t get my diploma,” Gomez said. “I went to the SOP Center and I got my GED there.”

Gomez said he was always hanging out with the wrong crowd and lost friends to prison, which opened his eyes to the road he was going down. The change didn’t happen right away, according to Gomez.

“I was stubborn, I still wanted to be with my friends,” he said. “It took a while for me to actually change.”

Gomez’s sister would try to get him to attend church and he would decline until one day he went. Gomez said he felt like God was talking to him. He was a father at the time and his mother was encouraging him to get a job.

Gomez found a job and decided to further his education by getting a degree in computer science.

“I found that I have a passion in technology,” he said. “I was always that computer whiz growing up. My family used to always come to me for all of the technical problems. So I pursued computer science, and I’m still pursuing it.”

Last year one of Gomez’s cousins died from natural causes and the family wanted to hold a celebration of life party at his parents’ house.

“It was a beautiful event,” Gomez said. “Everybody was there. My abuela, my tias and tios, all of my cousins. It was starting to get late, but people were still there.”

One of his cousins, Ivonne, was the life of the party, always dancing, singing and making everybody laugh. Another cousin, Anthony, who had been through a lot in his life, was there as well.

“We were all in a garage and it started to get dark,” Gomez explained. “My dad had left the garage door open. We were having a good time until we heard gun shots from the street.”

Gomez said the next events happened so fast, but they replay slowly in his mind. His mom told everyone to get down. His cousin Anthony shouted that he was hit, as he dropped to the ground. Gomez recalled scrambling to get to the far side of the garage, remembering that the garage door was open.

“I look to the back of the garage and see my cousin Ivonne struggling to breathe,” Gomez said. “She was hit too.”

His mother was pushing down on Ivonne’s wound, and Gomez did the same for his cousin Anthony. Anthony was losing a lot of blood, and Gomez tried to talk him into staying alive.

“Don’t stop breathing. You got this,” Gomez recalled.

Gomez lost both of his cousins that night, just one day after last year’s Gang Prevention Summit. He wanted to speak at this year’s Summit to warn youth that although the gang life looks appealing from the outside, on the inside it is “nothing but death and corruption.”

Students from schools throughout Monterey County attended the 2019 Gang Prevention Summit in Salinas.

Samantha Bengtson
A staff member edited this provided article.


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