A fence no taller than the young men who jumped over it was all that separated a brutal rape scene from a neighborhood of residents who say they live in a peaceful place.
Reflecting on Saturday’s two-hour rape of a 15-year-old student at Richmond High School, nearby neighbors said they were appalled.
“This is more than violence. They stepped over the line,” said Eraclio Lopez, 23, who lives one block from the crime scene near the intersection of Hayes Street and Emeric Avenue.
Lopez said he has lived in the house for nine years and never had any problems. He said he thinks the incident was the worst case of Richmond violence he has heard of.
Many residents said Saturday’s crime was not representative of the neighborhood’s usual activities.
“I think it’s an isolated incident,” said Debbie Wood, 58. “It’s more people coming from outside of the neighborhood that cause the problems.”
Wood, who has lived a block from the school for 27 years, said she thinks of her neighbors as hard workers that are being slandered by media after the assault.
“They’re showing a lot of Hispanics being involved in this incident, but that doesn’t represent the whole Hispanic population here at all,” Wood said.
Wood said she makes an effort every day to meet and watch over the students regularly walking by.
“I’m a nosy type of person,” she said. “I’ll come out on the porch when school gets out and say ‘Hi’ to the kids and try to report anything I can before it happens.”
Even after the incident, Wood said she has no worries about walking her dog around the block.
But some neighbors said the rape has changed how safe they feel where they live.
“I won’t go out at night,” said one 66-year-old woman, who did not want to be named. “I lock myself in.”
The grandmother of a Richmond High student has lived on Hayes Street for 25 years. She said the neighborhood has gotten worse over time, pointing out shoes hanging from power lines and gang-affiliated graffiti on the walls of Emeric Avenue.
She was home Saturday night but was not aware anything happened until the following morning. She learned from the news that at least a dozen onlookers laughed, took pictures and failed to report the crime.
“To stand there and make fun or laugh, they have to be sick,” she said. “I just hope they catch all of them.”
The crime caused one resident, who thought her neighborhood was safe, to think twice.
“I feel scared, very scared,” said Alejandra Gonzalez, 33.
But Gonzalez said that before Saturday, she had felt safe on her street.
“What happened last Saturday is bad, very bad. But this neighborhood is safe.”
Kristie Pelayo, 33, said she felt the same way.
“I feel safe in this neighborhood,” Pelayo said, who has lived in either Richmond or San Pablo her entire life. “I carry a knife, but I’m not scared to live in Richmond.”