Two other officers hustled the suspected "shooter," Mikeisha Lartique, off to a patrol car. Minutes later, one of the officers reappeared with a second "suspect," a young boy whose role in the mock slayings is unclear.
Though they are acting out roles loosely scripted by Pittsburg's gang officer Gianfala, Nichols and Foster, both 15, were rushed to a trauma center, where they were declared dead and transported to the county morgue in Martinez, where they will get toe tags identifying them as two more victims of stray bullets.
Lartique, also 15, went to jail in handcuffs and heard a cell door slam shut behind her. All the while, Gianfala's video camera kept recording.
Fake though the "slayings" and arrest were, they represent the reality that East County law enforcement officers say more area teens are facing: growing youth gang violence and criminal activity.
Statistics are spotty to support their assertions that violence and other gang-related crime are increasing in the area. But they point to an influx of gang-related CDs, Internet postings, paraphernalia and anecdotal evidence as confirmation.
It's an issue that will be explored at length next week during a youth gang summit sponsored by Supervisor Federal Glover and scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 22 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the East County Boys & Girls Club, 1001 Stoneman Ave. in Pittsburg. Space is limited, so those interested in attending should call 427-8138 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
"We will have nationally renowned gang experts sharing their knowledge with us," said Glover in a press release. "(The recent) slaying in Pittsburg and the drive-by shootings in Antioch - both of which may have gang connections - underscore the reason we are having this summit. We realize they are already here, but it is not too late to stop the further growth of street gangs and violence before they take root in East County."
East County law enforcement officials believe gangs are operating in the East County, but no single gang is dominant in the area and no single gang controls a neighborhood. And how serious of a gang problem there is depends on whom you talk to.
"If we catch a suspect and we have evidence that his crime is gang related, we ask the district attorney to prosecute him as a gang member," said Brentwood Police Sgt. Sergio Verbis. "Where we find gang graffiti, we make a report of that and use it to track what gangs are operating where. Gang members are proud to tell you of their affiliation."
Oakley Police Chief Chris Thorsen said that although data isn't being collected in his jurisdiction on gang activity, he's seen an increase in the problem but it's not out of control.
"Is it a big problem? Compared to what? We have been pretty fortunate in that we don't have a lot of what we call gang violence," said Thorsen. "I believe a large portion of that (is due) to our school resources officer program at the high school. I would also tell you our schools are very safe. Yes, we've got validated gang members, but for whatever reason, they seem to keep a pretty low profile."
Brentwood Police Captain James Martinez, a member of Glover's Gang Task Force and a 15-year veteran of gang watching, said, "I don't know a community that doesn't have gangs. There are no neighborhoods or areas in Brentwood controlled by gang members.
"We take zero tolerance of any kind of gang activities in city schools or parks. We aggressively enforce laws against gang-related stuff. We're not going to be reacting to gang activity; we are going to be preventing it."
Graffiti is a sign of gang activity in a community, he said, noting that "graffiti is like a newspaper." Martinez added that ignoring gang graffiti is tantamount to inviting the gangs to step up their activities in town.
Verbis produced a red plastic binder confiscated from a Brentwood student. The binder contained drawings and notes such as "X4," "ESO" and "Norte," all references to gangs. X4 is the 14th letter of the alphabet or N for Norte or northern gangs, while ESO refers to East Side Oakley, a gang affiliate.
Compact discs featuring gang members trash-talking rival gangs in violent terms proliferate on the Internet, as do announcements of gatherings of gang members, Verbis said.
"What happens on our streets is linked to county jails and to state prisons where the hard-core gang members are," Martinez said. Gangs are responsible for burglaries, car thefts, identity thefts, robberies, shootings, stabbings and other assaults, including murder.
"Every time they steal someone's identity, their car, or a family member is fatally taken away, we are all impacted," said Sgt. George Wright, a 20-year veteran of the Contra Costa Sheriff's office.
"They don't stay in one community. Gangs used to stay in one place like East County, Fresno, Stockton, San Francisco or Sacramento. Now they might be more visible and mobile, and they are operating 24-7."
Wright said you can't just point a finger at "gangsta rap" music, the baggy clothes or other images from the media and say that is causing youths to join gangs.
"There are many factors when people choose a specific path," he said. "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. It's not just music or relationships with family. It takes a perfect storm of peers, family, social influences, media. All these can influence. But it's very simplistic to cast blame."
Gianfala is editing her video, "Stray Bullets," which will premiere at Glover's gang summit next week. "We're talking about a generation that has grown up getting information and entertainment by video. It can reach more than any live presentation," she said.
Referring to her cast, youths referred to her by the schools for their athletic and scholastic abilities as well as their ability to influence their peers, she said, "They have taken a journey. They've read and played the role of victim, witness and suspect. They had to put themselves in a different place each time. We discussed scenarios and discussed what the outcome would be."
Initially everyone wanted to be the shooter.
"They thought it was cool," she said. "But as they went through these other roles and heard that cell door slam, felt the handcuffs, the toe tags and being in the morgue, it wasn't cool."
They learned the feeling of betrayal when peers urged them to shoot someone, declaring they would support them, only to deny or desert them when the authorities arrived. "'You told me to shoot. I shot him; now where are you guys?' They wouldn't take any calls from jail by the shooter," she said.
Gang activity crosses all gender and ethnic lines. "It's equal opportunity," Gianfala said, adding that there are many youths who "are on the fence and haven't taken that leap. Every clique or subset is influenced by upper levels. They all come from larger gangs, whether they specifically have ties to prison gangs or not."
Her video will be made available to education groups, civic clubs, parent clubs, foster parents and anyone working with young people. Gianfala said her hope is that her cast members will be able to persuade their peers that being in a gang is not cool. So does her production assistant, Anita Marquez of the Center for Human Development.
"We laugh and joke, but people die all the time. It's real," Marquez told cast members after shooting the segment at Woodland Hills Park. "Talk to your parents about what you did. It's very important. You are making history."
Nichols and Foster, both freshmen at Pittsburg High, said that was why they wanted to participate in the video. "I wanted to make a difference, make people aware how serious this is," said Nichols.
Foster agreed. "I just wanted to be part of the team that makes a difference."