A Cold Case of Street Murder

Family and police seek closure in 7-year-old case
Gilroy – May 19 is an important date for the Ramirez family. Every year in the spring they visit Gregorio Ramirez on his birthday. They bring flowers and his nieces and nephews wish him a happy birthday. Gregorio turned 33 this year.

Nov. 20 is another important date for the Ramirez family of Watsonville – it’s the anniversary of the day he was gunned down on the streets of Gilroy.

No one has ever been charged with his murder.

Police have people of interest, almost suspects, and silent witnesses. They struggle with cracking the code of silence that unlocks the mystery of what happened that night almost seven years ago.

“We all have our suspicions as to who did it,” said Detective Dan Zen. “The whole thing is they have this whole gang mentality … the code of silence, which (has) really hindered the case.”

Zen is the third detective assigned to the case.

What police have been able to piece together isn’t much, but what they do know: Ramirez was at a gathering located at Eigleberry and Ninth streets with friends who are gang members. There was an altercation between them and a female who had relatives in a gang who were also present. Words were exchanged. The female was stabbed, and Ramirez shot once in the back of the neck while sitting in a car.

Seven years later, no one is talking.

“We’re so close it’s frustrating,” Zen said. “The older it gets, the harder it is (to solve.)”

But police refuse to give up and are still questioning individuals about who is responsible for Ramirez’ murder.

The file for Ramirez’s case is an inch thick with reports.

“Generally there is always somebody out there who has a piece of information that can make the puzzle fit,” said Sgt. Kurt Svardal. “It’s just been very difficult … some people are just not saying much of anything. Maybe they don’t know. Maybe they don’t want to tell us.”

Investigations for cases like Ramirez’s can lead police on somewhat of a rollercoaster ride – where the telephones are ringing, information is coming in. But then the lead won’t pan out and investigators must go back to the beginning.

“With homicides, they never go away until solved … Someone’s life was taken. We can’t just drop it,” Svardal said. “Part of your job and responsibility is trying to give (families) closure.”

Ramirez was known to Watsonville police for his connections with gang members, however, police do not believe he was targeted for this reason.

“I’m not going to say he was perfect. Nobody’s perfect,” said Oralia Ramirez, Gregorio’s older sister. “He was trying to get out of that lifestyle.”

According to Ramirez, her brother had completed Si Se Puede – a residential substance abuse program – and had a good job working in asbestos removal.

He was known as ‘Bear’ to family members and friends and was the one of 10 children. Ramirez counseled his young nephews, telling them to stay away from gangs.

“He used to playfully poke you,” his sister said. “I miss him just being around.” So does the rest of the Ramirez family.

Every year they attend the annual Peace and Unity March in Watsonville, carrying photographs of their son, their brother, their uncle – and talking to the family members of other victim’s who lost their lives to violence.

“It’s on our mind always,” she said. “I still run into people in town who stop and ask if I’m his sister. We look alike.”

Ramirez’s father stopped smoking “cold turkey” the day his son was killed.

“This time of year is very hard. We buried him on Nov. 30. My mother’s birthday is Dec. 1,” Ramirez said.

There is no joy at her birthday party.

“The family needs closure. That’s my number one thing. Especially for my parents,” Ramirez said. “That person is walking the streets … Anybody deserves justice, not just my brother.”

She has been diligent about keeping in touch with Gilroy investigators.

For seven years she has called each month looking for an update, hoping there is something new.

“What I want to do is keep his story alive… Don’t let it just fade away,” she said.

The Ramirez case is not only frustrating for family members and friends, but for detectives who have chased leads over the years to a so-far fruitless end.

“I wish I could get a lead today more than anything,” Zen said. “I would love to call (Ramirez) to tell her we have someone in custody. She calls and keeps the case alive – and that’s good. It kills detectives to know she’s waiting (for an answer) … but at least she’s still there.”

And Ramirez vows to remain involved until she knows what really happened on Nov. 20, 1998.

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