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December 2, 2023

Family searches for answers after 18-year-old farmworker is gunned down

WATSONVILLE—About 15 people sat quietly in rows of chairs facing an altar of votive candles, flowers, photographs and memorabilia in a carport near downtown Watsonville on Sunday.

Just hours prior, an 18-year-old man who, family says, had moved to the U.S. from Oaxaca, Mexico a year ago to work in the Pajaro Valley’s well-known strawberry fields was gunned down a few feet from the altar.

Feliciano Martinez Perea was shot several times around 8:45pm on April 2 on the 100 block of Riverside Drive at a two-story apartment complex. He was taken to an out of county trauma center where later he died, Watsonville Police spokeswoman Michelle Pulido said.

Pulido said WPD is looking for two suspects who officers believe followed Martinez Perea through the courtyard of the apartment complex and “confronted” him before a brief fight broke out. 

“Both suspects opened fire several times,” Pulido said. “We believe the gunmen fled the scene in a Ford or Mercury SUV.”

His family said Martinez Perea would have turned 19 in eight days. 

They said Martinez Perea was working in agriculture to send money back to his family in Mexico.

“He was not in a gang; this has nothing to do with him being in a gang,” said a young woman who chose not to reveal her name.

The incident is the first homicide in Watsonville this year, Pulido said.

Martinez Perea’s brother, Renaldo Martinez, described  Martinez Perea as a “gentle person.” He said he was a good basketball player and was a “very private person.”

Family members, on Tuesday, showed two gashes in the concrete floor of the carport where bullets ricocheted during the spray of gunfire that followed a shoving match where they said two men—who spoke English—pushed Perea back and forth between them.

A neighbor, who asked not to be identified and has lived in the area for several years, said the incident is unusual for the quiet, residential street, which lies three blocks from WPD headquarters and close to Watsonville High School.

“This just doesn’t happen around here,” he said.

Friends who heard the shooting unfold said they heard multiple shots. They said Martinez Perea was struck six times.

“He was a gentle person,” a friend said. “He had a brother and sister here in Watsonville and he was the youngest in his family.”

On social media, a friend of the family was circulating a flier that stated the family had hoped to raise funds to transport Martinez Perea back to San Martín Peras, Oaxaca, Mexico—a small town of about 12,000 people far removed from the state capital. 

Anyone with information is asked to call 471-1151. Anonymous tips can be left at 768-3544. To donate to the family, call 831-794-7451 or 805-512-5708.


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