Remembering a young Madera murder victim

MADERA, Calif.

Detectives say /*Jesus Espinoza*/ was gunned down outside a Carl's Jr. Restaurant Wednesday afternoon.

While police are calling the incident gang related, his family claims, he was a good kid who wasn't in a gang.

Known by his friends and family as Jesse, loved ones say the 16-year-old was a loyal friend who always had a smile on his face.

Andre Carter said, "He was always happy about everything, no matter what. You couldn't like put him down."

But, Madera Police paint a different picture, saying Jesse had gang affiliations and has had contact with law enforcement in the past.

Wednesday afternoon, he and a friend were walking along Madera Avenue, when another group of teens approached them. As Jesse tried to get away, he tripped and fell. That's when he was shot four times at point blank range.

Melanie Brand said, "We don't want him to go down as a gang member. He was killed by gang members."

Melanie Brand is Jesse's aunt. She and other family members describe him as religious, and say, while he's had his problems in the past, being in a gang wasn't one of them.

Mariah Brand said, "He would have helped anybody out. Anybody that was in need. He'd make a room of kids laugh."

But investigators are not willing to take any chances.

As family and friends grieved Thursday, an additional six officers, plus a Sergeant, worked overtime looking for gang activity. In the past, they've seen a rise in crime following suspected gang shootings. And that's something they're trying to prevent.

"You know, we're going to do everything in our power to stop it from happening, and if it does to be out on the street and arrest those who are responsible for it."

Officers will continue their gang-focused operation through the weekend.

As for Jesse Espinoza, he leaves behind six brothers and sisters. His family is in the process of planning fundraisers so they can pay for his funeral.

Copyright © 2021 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.