Two teenage brothers wounded during a brazen shooting inside a Northern California church were cooperating with police in the search for a hooded gunman and two other suspects.
Richmond police Sgt. Bisa French said Tuesday they now have leads on two of the men involved in the shooting Sunday at the New Gethsemane Church of God in Christ. The suspects are thought to be in their late teens or early 20s.
The brothers, aged 14 and 19, probably have an idea of why the three men came looking for them, French said, adding that investigators are looking into whether the shooting was gang-related.
"We're hoping to make some arrests soon," French said.
The victims and several other witnesses had initially been reluctant to aid investigators but have since provided leads, French said.
"If I knew something, I'd say something, but others can't see an advantage in that," Frank Robinson, a Richmond native who lives near the church, said Monday. "If those guys were bold enough to shoot up a church, who's to say they won't come up to your front door and shoot you?"
7 homicides this year
It was the latest shooting in the city of about 103,000 on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay that already has seen seven homicides this year, including a 23-year-old pregnant woman killed during a drive-by shooting while picking up her son from school.
Richmond garnered national attention after the gang rape of a 16-year-old girl outside a high school homecoming dance while as many as 20 bystanders watched without calling police. Seven people from 15 to 43 years old have pleaded not guilty in the attack.
Police are also looking into a string of more than two dozen car arson fires that began last fall.
"We're using all of our available resources," an exasperated French told the Associated Press. "Our investigators are working tirelessly to solve these crimes."
On Sunday, as the choir sang, a gunman flanked by two companions in hooded sweat shirts walked into the church, scanned the pews and walked out. Moments later, one of them returned and fired five shots, hitting the brothers who were seated among the crowd of more than 100 people.
The victims suffered non-life threatening injuries and have been released from a hospital.
"It's hurting all of us," said the Rev. Archie Levias, lead pastor. "This has to be the last straw."
Witnesses told police that the mother of the teens was sitting near them at the time of the shooting. When they were shot, she screamed, ran toward the pulpit and fainted in the aisle.
Violating the sanctuary
Robinson, 65, said the commotion spilled outside the church.
"People were coming out crying, looking all dismayed that their sanctuary was violated," Robinson said.
The two-story church is regularly attended on Sundays. It offers Bible study classes on Tuesdays and food giveaways on Wednesdays that attract hundreds of people, church leaders said.
It's located in a quiet neighborhood that nevertheless is the scene of drug dealing and prostitution, Robinson said.
Councilman Nathaniel Bates stopped by the church and said city officials and police "have to re-examine how we do things."
Deacon Ezekiel Wallace said Monday the past 24 hours had been mind-boggling.
"We hate that it happened. In a church? It's just not real," Wallace said. "(The suspects) have no regard or respect for life, especially in God's house. ... If you can't seek refuge here, then where can you go?"
Wallace, who has been with the church since 1964, said the congregation will remain steadfast.
"We're not scared, we're not fearful, we're not going to run," Wallace said.