A wave of gun violence in Denver and Aurora troubles community members and law enforcement

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
A memorial for six people who were shot, one of whom died, near the intersection of East Colfax Avenue and Verbena Street in Denver. Nov. 2, 2022.

The spate of gun violence that has studded the streets of Denver and Aurora in recent days is as bad as anti-gang expert Jason McBride has ever seen it.

McBride, who works on anti-gang initiatives with underprivileged kids in Aurora and Denver, said he senses inequities “coming to the surface.”

“It’s these kids that feel they don’t have any other options, “ he said. “In my team, we talk about it every day, because something happens every day.”

Since Oct. 22, both cities have seen more than a dozen shootings, many of them fatal. 

In Aurora, there was a quadruple homicide at a single home last weekend. In Denver, there were three people shot in southwest Denver — one man, Jonathan Saldana Garcia, died. Then there was a double homicide last weekend in a parking lot. Two victims, Deandre Lewis and Raeshaud Jackson, were killed.

And, earlier this week, a spray of gunfire killed one man and injured five others on East Colfax Avenue, near the Aurora line, in the middle of the afternoon.

Police have made an arrest for the Oct. 22 homicide in Denver of Saldana Garcia. No one else has been arrested for any of the other crimes in either city so far, though.

Denver Mayor Michael Hanock decried all of the recent violence in the city, but pointed out the latest one on East Colfax and Verbena Street was particularly dangerous. 

“What we saw the other day in east Denver is something that should never occur, that is never something we should never allow or permit to happen in our community,” Hancock said. “What we don’t want to do is to see it normalized. I want the public to be outraged.”

A Denver police commander agreed.

“It’s absolutely concerning that this occurred in broad daylight,” said Denver Police Cmdr. Matt Clark. “I can’t speak to what’s going on. We are concerned with the violence we’re seeing.”

Candles and flowers at the scene of Monday’s shooting

Clark spoke to the media near a patch of dirt where six people were gunned down on Monday. By mid-week, the police tape and evidence markers were gone, but the bloody dirt and several candles and flowers remained. Many of the people working or living nearby or lingering around the site didn’t want to use their last names because they didn’t want to be targeted by the gunmen, who are still at large. 

Eddy was wearing a red Nebraska hat and a white tank top. He brought a candle to the dirt patch and kneeled over in tears. He was hanging out in the Michael’s Convenience Store parking lot a few feet away when he saw the shooting happen. He ran over to help the man who was killed in the shooting.

“He died in my arms,” Eddy said, wiping away tears. He said he is on parole and didn’t want his last name used. “I was just one of the ones who managed to duck behind the cars … I’d tried to help as much as I could. I feel bad. I was the last one he saw.”

An unhoused woman who was having some lunch about a block from the scene said she tried to give CPR to one of the victims. A video of the shooting taken by a witness and shared with CPR News confirmed this. The woman, 36, calls herself Special K and said violence in Denver has gotten worse since the fentanyl epidemic. She referred to the drug as “blues” after the small street blue pills.

“Blues came in and it took out my soul mate, two of my best friends,” she said, who noted she grew up in Green Valley Ranch and learned CPR at Dr. Martin Luther King middle school. “Our city has gone to hell. When pot hit, we were already a pot state, but our city went to hell. The violence has gotten worse. We’re like Chicago now.”

Hancock also blamed drugs for higher violence in the metro area. 

“It’s hard for me to separate the two. We see this drug trade increasing greatly, particularly opiates, methamphetamines and the fentanyl, as well as the violence increasing,” he said.

Lacretia Wimbley/CPR News
A memorial dedicated to four people who were killed in a domestic violence incident early Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022, sits on Geneva Street in Aurora.

4 killed in weekend shooting

In Aurora, melted candles and flowers sit outside the home in the 900 block of Geneva Street where four people were shot and killed last weekend.

Jesus Serrano, 51, was killed, along with his daughter Maria Serrano, 22, and her husband Kenneth Luque, 20, and Rudolfo Perez, 49. 

Police rescued two young children and another woman, all unharmed, from the scene. 

They believe the shooting stemmed from a domestic dispute between the surviving woman, who neighbors said is Maria’s twin sister, and a suspect, Joseph Mario Castorena, 21.

Castorena has a lion tattoo on the left side of his neck and is believed to be armed and dangerous, police said. Authorities are offering a reward of up to $15,000 for information leading to Castorena’s arrest. Records show that Jesus Serrano and another family member filed for a restraining order against Castorena a week before the shooting.

Serrano’s neighbors said they, too, are frustrated by the uptick in violence in Aurora. 

Lacretia Wimbley/CPR News
A picture of Maria Serrano and an unidentified male sits at a memorial site in the 900 block of Geneva Street in Aurora. Maria was among four people shot and killed in Aurora early Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022.

A longtime resident of 20 years, Penny O’Neal, 70, who lives across the street from Serrano and his family, said she is forever changed by the murders of her neighbors. She recalled a time about 12 years ago when Serrano jumped the fence to her yard to help put out a fire in their backyard.

“I am just a firm believer that if we didn’t have all these guns available … we’re just making it too easy,” O’Neal said Wednesday. “People do things without thinking, that they wouldn’t have done 10 years ago. There’s been just a general disrespect for people’s lives.

She added, “We’ve gone downhill, and I don’t know how we’re going to get back up.”

A next-door neighbor of the Serranos named Hillary, who declined to share her last name, also spoke highly of Jesus Serrano. Having lived in the neighborhood for two years, Hillary said she didn’t know the Serrano’s well, but she smiled as she shared how generous the family was.

A small black and white cat named Ollie stood in her doorway. The pet was a gift from Jesus’ family, she said.

“He was a hard worker,” Hillary said. “They did not deserve this.”

Crime rates continue to rise

According to Aurora Police Sgt. Matthew Wells-Longshore, seven people were murdered in Aurora in October, and nearly three dozen people have been killed since January this year. 

Violent crimes in Aurora, including homicides, non-fatal shootings, aggravated assault, sex assaults and robberies, increased by nearly 16 percent from 2021, based on police data.

Community members and leaders are growing weary and frustrated with the uptick in shootings and negative attention on their neighborhoods.

Aurora activist Candice Bailey said the narrative of violence needs to change, and she partially blames the problem on a lack of police effort.

“Is this tough-on-crime narrative the truth, or is it really that police have helped create the environment so that we only have that narrative?” said Bailey, who is the executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Light Carrier.

Eden, who owns Michael’s Convenience Store on East Colfax Avenue and Verbena Street, was there working when the six-person shooting happened earlier this week. 

She said she feels the neighborhood has gotten a bad reputation and that normally, it’s pretty quiet. On a recent sunny day, she was working the cash register with her 2-year-old daughter in tow.

“Feels like in the past three or four years, it’s been pretty safe,” said Eden, who declined to give her last name because of retaliation. “But the Denver Police work hard to clean up this area. ”

The Colfax Avenue and Yosemite Street area, just a few blocks from where the shooting happened, is a designated “hot spot” in Denver. This means it has disproportionately high numbers of violent crimes. DPD already has additional officers, both in uniform and in plain clothes, patrolling the area, along with extra resources for addiction and housing.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
A memorial for six people who were shot, one of whom died, near the intersection of East Colfax Avenue and Verbena Street in Denver. Nov. 2, 2022.