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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Carmen Santos, second from left, cries at the base of a memorial at the scene of Sunday's drive-by shooting that left her 7-year-old daughter dead. "She was very lovable and beautiful and loved by everyone," Santos said of Maria.

The corner of 800 West and Fremont Avenue (1100 South) was the scene of horrific violence Sunday.

On Monday, it was the scene of hugs and prayers as a neighborhood still in shock tried to do what it could to begin healing.

A 7-year-old girl was killed during a drive-by shooting Sunday while she played on the corner in front of her house. Investigators said Sunday they did not believe the girl was an intended target. Monday, however, police said that part was still being investigated.

Maria Del Carmen Menchaca, who went to Riley Elementary School, was shot about 6:30 p.m.

Frank Benavidez, 20, and three 16-year-old juveniles — a male and two females — were arrested for investigation of first-degree felony murder. Benavidez was booked into the Salt Lake County Jail. Gabriel Magallon, Tiona Vigial and Mae Johnson, who just turned 16 Saturday, were booked into juvenile detention.

The shooter, one of the juveniles, was in a black SUV, according to jail records. Benavidez was the driver and owned the vehicle, according to jail documents.

"A juvenile pointed a gun and fire (sic) one round in the direction of another juvenile ... and in doing so this juvenile was shot and later passed away from these injuries," jail documents state.

Two juveniles who were in the car later provided this information to police, according to jail records.

Under Utah law, a 16-year-old charged with first-degree felony homicide can be charged directly as an adult instead of having the case make its way through the juvenile court system. Salt Lake Deputy District Attorney Alicia Cook said Monday that charges would be considered later this week. A decision on whether to directly file on the juveniles had not yet been made.

Benavidez, who is also known as Felipe Alarcon Jimenez, has already been deported once, according to court records. Under his Jimenez name, Benavidez pleaded guilty in 2007 to one count of aggravated assault and discharging a firearm from a vehicle. Two other aggravated assault charges and three other counts of discharging a firearm from a vehicle were dismissed in exchange for his plea.

In May 2007 near 1300 West and 700 South, just a few blocks from this weekend's fatal shooting, Benavidez was arrested for felony fleeing. He later pleaded guilty to that charge. Three counts of retaliation against a witness or victim were dismissed in exchange for the plea.

In 2006, Benavidez was charged with aggravated kidnapping and robbery, but the case was dismissed after the alleged victim in the case disappeared, according to court records.

Salt Lake police say Sunday's shooting was gang-related. They say the four people arrested are all documented gang members. The shooting was the result of an ongoing conflict between rival gang members, said Salt Lake police detective Andy Jackson.

A young woman, who only identified herself as a cousin of Menchaca, said there had been a confrontation with the shooter earlier in the day at the house.

"He's been just buggin' us," she told the Deseret News.

The cousin said the gunman was threatening one of her cousins who lived in the same house as the victim. She said the shooter threatened to "kill him and his whole family."

Detectives say they have recovered a gun from their investigation.

"She was a good little girl. She didn't deserve what happened to her," the cousin said.

Gang detectives had a good idea who they were looking for shortly after the shooting and were familiar with the two groups, Jackson said. They located the black SUV early Monday with some of the suspects inside.

Rosina Velasquez-Chavez, who has lived in the neighborhood for 30 years, said she was heartbroken over the incident.

"It is because we all have children who play outside, and they're not safe to play," she said. "You hear shots, and it's not the Fourth of July. It used to be a very safe neighborhood."

But over the past 10 years, Velasquez-Chavez said she has watched her safe neighborhood slowly taken over by gangs and violence. For example:

• Wally Knapton, 49, manager of the Family Dollar store, 1145 S. Glendale Drive (1350 West), was shot and killed during a robbery in March. The man arrested for the homicide was just 17 at the time of the shooting.

• Faviola Hernandez, owner of The Shop beauty salon, 1329 W. California Ave. (1330 South), was shot and killed during a robbery on Aug. 15, 2007.

"Unfortunately, I think there is a problem all through the city. Sometimes it shows up in our neighborhood," said Salt Lake City Councilman Van Turner, who represents Glendale.

Those arrested for the crimes aren't always from the city where the crimes were committed, he said. For police, the only thing they can really do for a drive-by shooting is react to the situation and arrest someone after it happens.

"A lot of people on Fremont are longtime owners. These aren't the type of people who are causing the trouble," he said. "This is exactly what we don't want happening down here, and we've had too many things like this. It's basically a senseless act. As a community you work to build schools and community centers. To have something like this to just take her life away is just senseless."

On Monday, during the first day of a nine-day rosary novena, Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker said city officials wanted the family to know "that we care, and we want to do what we can to help."

"I don't think there's a greater tragedy than the loss of a child," he said. "Everyone is feeling enormous sorrow."

Becker said the city has increased its police presence in the Pioneer Precinct and has worked to foster a neighborhood approach to crime prevention.

"There's not a simple, easy fix, or it would have been done a long time ago," Becker said.


Contributing: Aaron Falk

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com