Unusual connection between 3 Mendota murders

FRESNO, Calif.

Yobanni Bonilla is charged with killing two brothers earlier this month. Two years ago, he played an important role in the funeral for 4-year-old Alex Mercado, who was killed by a neighbor.

Despite their age difference, Mercado and Bonilla were close friends. Bonilla knew Alex's family and he was one of the little boy's favorite people to play with. Alex even wanted his mom to name her next baby "Yobanni." But after going through the Mercado family's grief with them, he's now accused of causing the same kind of pain for another family.

When Alex Mercado was laid to rest in Nov. 2009, his friend Yobanni Bonilla was one of four pallbearers chosen to carry his little white casket.

Mindy Mercado remembers her son's friend as a gentle 21-year-old with a childlike quality. "Yobanni didn't drink," she said. "He didn't smoke. He never got loud, let alone violent at all."

But two years later, sheriff's detectives believe Bonilla got very violent. He's accused of murdering Rene and Daniel Leon at a birthday party earlier this month as part of a shooting spree that also injured three others.

Mercado says she lost contact with Bonilla, but the few times she saw him, she could see he was following the wrong path. And she says it looks like he learned nothing from Alex's murder. "For him to know, for him to actually have been there with us in that spot and to know what it was like," she said. "That's not the person that we knew. And now, he's on the other side."

The Leon family has built a shrine to Rene and Daniel in their Mendota driveway as an outlet for their grief.

Mercado says there's an angel sharing in that emotion. "I'm sure my son's looking down really sad right now because he really, like I said, enjoyed this person and I'm sure he's really sad at what happened."

Mindy Mercado says she's hoping the Leon family will start to heal once they know justice is served. That process has already begun. Bonilla was transported to the Fresno County jail Wednesday and he's expected to make his first court appearance on Friday.

Copyright © 2020 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.