Five years ago, the senseless slaying of Ximena Meza gave all of Anaheim a heavy heart. The 9-year-old Salvadoran-American girl played with her sisters in front of their apartment complex near Brookhurst Park on the evening of Oct. 22, 2014 when gun shots rang out. A bullet from a gang member’s gun struck Meza in the chest, leaving her to die in her father’s arms. Police promptly arrested Alfredo Aquino and Ricardo Cruz for the crime.
“It doesn’t really bring peace but at the same time I wanted to look at the eyes of the people that killed my girl,” said Alexandra Ortiz, Meza’s aunt, at the time. “How can they do that?”
Jurors in the criminal trial found both gang members guilty on Thursday of second-degree murder. Cruz reportedly lunged at Aquino after the verdict, leading to a short-lived brawl between the two men. In addition to murder, jurors also convicted the pair of street terrorism and firearm possession charges with gang enhancements.
Immediately following the murder, the Weekly investigated the criminal past of the cholos, both documented to have been members of Ready at War (RAW), a upstart street gang affiliated with Anaheim FOLKS, a larger gang under injunction with a deeper history in the city. A year before the Meza slaying, Buena Park police pulled over a white Honda Civic Aquino drove with Cruz riding passenger. Authorities found a billy club in the car, leading to felony charges for the pair.
They pleaded guilty to the crime in July 2014, just a few months before the Meza murder.
Instead of spending years in prison, Aquino and Cruz got probation and repeatedly violated it by associating with each other in areas claimed by FOLKS. A probation officer recommended 45 days in jail for Aquino and the original seven-year sentence in state prison for Cruz, writing of the latter, “It is of concern that he continues to engage in inappropriate behavior, and it is felt that he needs to be held accountable for his actions.”
On Sept. 24, 2014, an Orange County Superior Court Commissioner partly agreed, sentencing Aquino to 30 days in jail while ordering up 16 months in prison for Cruz.
But with credit for time served, neither stepped foot inside a cell. A month later, prosecutors say, Aquino and Cruz drove into a neighborhood claimed by the rival Chicanos Kicking Ass (CKA) gang. Cruz exited from the passenger door when the car pulled to a stop. He opened fire on a group of gang members in the area, inadvertently killing Meza.
Both men are due back in court in August where they’ll face down a maximum penalty of 40 years to life for the murder.
Meza excelled at her studies as a fifth grader at nearby Juliette Low Elementary, where she developed a budding passion for acting, having returned from a rehearsal on the night of her death. The family promptly moved out of the neighborhood where the slaying occurred. If not for the murder, Meza would be 14 years old today with her whole life ahead of her.