Man arrested in community center killing

San Francisco police have arrested a suspect in connection with the brazen killing of a 22-year-old Western Addition community center employee who was gunned down at work in a crowded gymnasium.

The fatal shooting occurred shortly after 5 p.m. April 27 inside the Ella Hill Hutch Recreation Center at 1050 McAllister St. The victim, Donte White, was pronounced dead at the scene.

“What was most horrific and egregious about that homicide was that this occurred in a safe environment for children, where parents would take their kids thinking they would be out of harm’s way from street violence, and a cold-blooded killer opened fire,” Deputy Chief Morris Tabak of the San Francisco Police Department said. “He could have very easily killed many innocent bystanders.”

Members of the department’s gang task force picked up the suspect, Esau Ferdinand, 24, at Divisadero and Oak streets around 2 p.m. Thursday, Tabak said. Ferdinand, already on felony probation in San Francisco for narcotics violations related to drug sales, had an “arrest history,” Tabak said.

Ferdinand, who is being held in county jail on a $500,000 bail warrant, will be arraigned this morning.

Tabak said it was still not known if White was an intended target, adding that the investigation was ongoing. White was on criminal probation for a domestic violence conviction when he was hired at the community center, just two weeks prior to the shooting.

“Sometimes these things are retaliation for something they did before; maybe Donte White did something to Ferdinand to disrespect him or did something Esau didn’t like or agree with, or maybe he did something to someone Esau associated with. There’re still a lot of things we’re looking into as far as a motive.”

In a neighborhood already suffering from violence, what made the shooting at the local community center even more troubling was the fact that dozens of people, mostly teenagers and young adults, witnessed it, but initially none would come forward to the police.

Several witnesses to the shooting eventually came forward, Tabak said, though he would not say if those witnesses were now in the Police Department’s witness relocation program. He did say they were safe.

City Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who represents the Western Addition residents among other surrounding areas, called the neighborhood “besieged with gun violence.”

“The most important thing we can do right now is convey the message that gun violence will not be tolerated and that murders will not be committed with impunity,” Mirkarimi said.

Police also arrested two women Wednesday in the 2004 murder of a 26-year-old man found at Fort Funston. The victim, Eugene Gorenman, a software engineer for PG&E and a recent UC Berkeley graduate, had been lured to the beach by at least three women, according to San Francisco Police Department Inspector Holly Pera, and then robbed and killed.

Felicia Mehrara of San Francisco and Kimberly Gutierrez of El Sobrante, both 18, were taken into custody on a District Attorney’s Office warrant. The third suspect in the case, San Francisco resident Jillian McIlvenna, 21, was arrested May 9, 2005, and is still in custody.

The arrests in the two homicide cases were good news for a department facing heavy criticism for a growing number of homicides, including several this week.

Early Wednesday morning, a man and a woman were found shot in the head in a parked car on Turk Street — the same street where a gun battle had taken place just two days earlier.

On Monday, a 28-year-old man was shot multiple times on Ellsworth Street in Bernal Heights.

On Aug. 11, two 18-year-old men were gunned down in the early evening on Kirkwood Avenue in the Bayview district.

beslinger@examiner.com

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