March 3, 2021



Third suspect arrested in killings of Union City boys aged 11 and 14; police say ongoing gang dispute was the motive

UNION CITY – Authorities in Alameda County have quietly arrested and charged a 20-year-old man in the high profile November 2019 killings of two young boys who were shot to death at an elementary school parking lot last year.

Carlos Gilberto Zepeda, 20, was arrested last week on charges that he participated in the killings of 11-year-old Kevin Hernandez and 14-year-old Sean Withington. Last February, at a news conference, authorities announced the arrests of Jason Cornejo, 18, from Castro Valley, and a then-17-year-old boy from Hayward who remains in juvenile court on the same charges.

Zepeda faces two murder counts as well as related gang charges and gun enhancements. He is being held in Santa Rita Jail without bail.

Authorities have linked the shooting to a longstanding dispute between two area gangs: a Union City subset of the Norteños, which was based in the neighborhood where the boys were killed, and a gang known as the Hayward Original Gripp Gettas or HOGGs, which police have linked to all three defendants.

According to court records, cell phone records showed that Zepeda, Cornejo, and the teen – who has not yet been publicly identified – traveled together to and from the scene of the shooting. Authorities say that Zepeda obtained the rental car used in the killing with help from a family member.

Additionally, Zepeda and Cornejo were suspected in a nonfatal shooting that occurred three days before both boys were killed, according to prosecutors.

The rivalry between both gangs had existed on and off for 15 years, and was reinstigated by the 2015 shooting of a 27-year-old HOGGs affiliate in Hayward, police said. Authorities said social media posts and rap music videos by members of both gangs also had reignited tensions.

The killings of the boys unfolded at 1:26 am Nov. 23, 2019, around the time police received multiple 911 calls reporting gunshots heard in the area of ​​Sherman Drive and Colgate Drive.

When officers arrived at the Searles Elementary School parking lot in the city’s Decoto neighborhood, they found Sean and Kevin gravely wounded in the parking lot. Sean died at the scene, and Kevin died while being rushed to a local trauma center.

The boys had been inside a minivan in the parking lot when another car pulled into the lot, according to security camera footage reviewed by this news organization. A short time later, as the minivan began to drive away, two separate sets of muzzle flashes can be seen cutting through the darkness, aimed at the departing vehicle, which then slowly collided with a tree.

Police said the minivan the boys were in was “riddled with bullets.” At the scene, police eventually recovered 36 rifle bullet casings and six 9mm handgun bullet casings.

Police said last month they believed there were two shooters involved, based in part on that video evidence, and announced that they were looking for a car resembling a silver Toyota Camry.

Zepeda’s next court hearing, an arraignment, is set for January, court records show. Cornejo, who has pleaded not guilty, is also in Santa Rita Jail in Dublin awaiting a preliminary hearing. Prosecutors have moved to combine Zepeda and Cornejo’s cases and try them jointly. They are also moving to try the 17-year-old as an adult, according to court records.

Staff writers Joseph Geha, Robert Salonga, and Fiona Kelliher contributed reporting.