Authorities identify gunmen
Desert Sun staff reports • November 29, 2008
PALM DESERT — Authorities have identified the two men who pulled guns and shot each other to death in a crowded toy store Friday, the first day of the holiday shopping season.
The victims were Alejandro Moreno, 39, of Desert Hot Springs, and Juan Meza, 28, of Cathedral City. Authorities believe the two knew each other.
It was a parent's worst nightmare: Gunshots and screams rang through a crowded toy store filled with children during the holiday season.
Shoppers dropped to the ground. Some hid under shelves with their children. One woman acted as if she was dead and another fed her baby so as not to draw attention to themselves.
On the busiest shopping day of the year — the day after Thanksgiving — two men were killed in what witnesses and police say began as a dispute between two females inside a crowded Toys R Us at 72-314 Highway 111.
As reported on mydesert.com, the Palm Desert Police Department received calls of shots fired about 11:30 a.m., Riverside County sheriff's Sgt. Dennis Gutierrez said.
When police arrived a minute later, two men were fatally shot inside. No one else was injured, he said.
“We have recovered two handguns within close proximity of the deceased,” Gutierrez said. “There's a possibility they knew each other.”
‘Daddy, wake up'
Witnesses inside the store told investigators the shooting began shortly before 11:30 a.m., during some kind of argument between two adolescent females.
The argument escalated when one of the females “pummeled” the other, according to one witness, who said two men — adult males, connected to each of the females — joined the dispute and pulled out guns.
J. Schmidt, 40, of Desert Hot Springs was one of more than two dozen witnesses questioned by authorities Friday afternoon after the shootings.
She said she was a few feet from the parties who were arguing and dropped to the floor after she saw one of the men pull out a gun.
“I got down on the ground and I heard shots,” she said, adding that her husband dragged her behind a DVD display. “It seemed like an eternity. But after just two or three minutes the gunfire ceased, then we ran out the back of the store,” she said.
In another aisle, at about the same time, Ray Turner, 20, of Palm Springs, was looking for items for his 1-year-old daughter in the store's electronics section when he said he heard indistinct arguing between two females coming from one aisle away.
Turner said he looked around the corner of the aisle and saw a man fire a handgun into the air and then fire it at someone else.
“I mean he nailed him,” Turner said of the man. “Next thing you know — it was like rats going crazy — people dropping things, stuff that they bought toys and receipts were scattered everywhere.”
He said the two suspected shooters appeared to be in their 20s or 30s and one had small children with him.
Turner said he ran in the opposite direction and went looking for his sister and brother who were inside the store with him. He said he and a number of others took refuge in a stock room and waited for the shooting to stop.
Once it had ended, Turner said he walked out and saw a small child near the body of one of the men.
He said he heard the child say: “Daddy, wake up.”