Two men police described as gang members were charged in the seemingly random shooting death of a 15-year-old who was killed in Riverside three years ago, authorities said Thursday.
Lareanz Simmons was described as popular, caring student at Riverside Poly High School who had no gang affiliation. On Feb. 23, 2012, he was walking home from a friend’s house when a man got out of car and shot him, firing five to six rounds, according to police.
The junior ROTC member died at a hospital.
Simmons was targeted because he was black, Riverside Police Department Chief Sergio Diaz said Thursday.
Diaz called Simmons an "innocent 14-year-old child gunned down for no other reason than his race."
Two men with criminal records were named as suspects based on new information that investigators did not describe. The arrests were announced at a news conference Thursday.
Christian Velasquez, 23, and Manuel Barbarin, 24, were each charged Wednesday with first-degree murder with the special circumstances allegations of hate crime and gang violence.
Police described the pair as “known gang members” from Riverside’s Eastside neighborhood. They were subject to a gang injunction, Diaz said.
A third person may have been involved, and police were still looking for him.
Velasquez was expected to be arraigned Friday afternoon, according to John Hall, a spokesman for the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office. Velasquez was in custody on a pending case in a February 2014 assault, Hall said.
Barbarin was in state prison and his arraignment date was not yet known, Hall said. He was serving a 28-month felony sentence.
Simmons’ family members said the arrests were helping them achieve a bit of closure in the teenager’s death.
"This is the happiest time of my life, just to have those guys in jail," said mother Theresa Stewart.
Simmons would be graduating from high school this year, his grandmother, Bernice Hobdy said.
"Every time I think about it, it kind of hurts me. We were planning on that day," Hobdy said.
Friend Eva Kjellesvig teared up at the news conference. She said she still visits Simmons' grave every day.
Anyone with information on the crime was asked to contact Detective Adrian Tillett at 951-353-7105 or Detective Mike Medici at 951-353-7104. Those who want to remain anonymous should contact We Tip at 800-782-7463.