Around noon on April 2, a distraught woman called 911 to report that a car had gone over the embankment on Keller Avenue in the Oakland hills.
First responders located the dark blue Honda Civic and realized this was no accident. The driver, Quinn Boyer, a 34-year-old Santa Clara County paramedic who lived in Dublin, had been fatally shot in the head.
Police Chief Howard Jordan said Boyer's killing stood out among the many homicides in the city because of who he was, where the crime occurred and the circumstances. He said Boyer was "a model citizen" who had just taken his father to a doctor's appointment when he was killed in a random attack in a neighborhood where violent crime is rare. "Everyone puts themselves in his shoes and says, 'it could have been me,'" Jordan said.
Whoever did it, however, was in the wind. Boyer did not regain consciousness. Police were never able to interview him. There were no witnesses to the shooting.
With so little to go on, how did Oakland police investigators solve a killing on one of the major gateways to the Oakland hills? What was the trail to four middle school and two high school boys ages 13 to 16? Teenagers who authorities allege targeted Boyer, who had briefly stopped by the side of the road, not at a stop sign as had been widely reported, in a random attack?
Jordan allowed me to interview lead investigators Sgt. Randy Brandwood and Officer Phong Tran. The Tribune agreed not to publish details that police felt might compromise the criminal investigation.
Here, according to investigators' accounts, is a summary of major case developments.
Day 1, April 2
The witness to Boyer's car going off the road told police she saw a possible suspect in a brown car and heard a shot. But she couldn't give specifics. A senior patrol officer told major crimes investigators that a gold Dodge Intrepid had been carjacked in East Oakland earlier that morning. He said it could be the same brown car the witness was talking about. Later that afternoon, a group of boys hijacked a burgundy Honda Civic and led school police on a high-speed chase. Police broke off the pursuit when it got dangerous.
Day 2, April 3
Oakland hills residents began calling OPD offering to show investigators their surveillance video. None of it proved useful. However, investigators obtained other video that placed a gold Intrepid on Keller around the time of the shooting.
Police began investigating a possible link between the stolen Intrepid and the Boyer shooting. They obtained video from a liquor store near the intersection where the car was stolen. That afternoon, a group of boys robbed a 14-year-old on 64th Avenue and shot him in the buttocks. A witness told police the attackers were in a gold Intrepid. Investigators obtained video from nearby Frick Middle School corroborating that. Police found the abandoned Intrepid about 3:30 p.m. Investigators say evidence links it to the shootings of Boyer and the 14-year-old boy.
Day 3, April 4.
Investigators reviewed the liquor store video. They discovered that the boys pictured were the same people the victim said were in the store before they stole his gold Intrepid at gunpoint. Police began canvassing the area near where the Intrepid was dumped trying to identify the boys who they suspected lived nearby. Boyer died later that afternoon.
April 5 through April 18
Investigators were able to recover additional video showing some of the boys walking on High Street toward Congress Avenue right before the Intrepid carjacking.
Investigators called on school district Officer Anthony Fergoso for help identifying the boys. He identified one 14-year-old. Tran reviewed the boy's criminal history and recognized one of his associates from the liquor store video. That 15-year-old was in juvenile hall charged with robbing a woman five days after the Boyer shooting. Fergoso arrested the 14-year-old, along with his companion, a second 15-year-old, whom the officer also recognized from OPD photos.
OPD investigators read the boys their Miranda rights and questioned them. According to police, they confessed to being present at the Boyer shooting and the shooting of the 14-year-old but downplayed their involvement. They also gave police the names of the other boys they said participated in the crimes.
Meanwhile, Fergoso, who had been involved in the high-speed police chase of the burgundy Honda, told investigators he recognized the boy in San Leandro Juvenile Hall as the driver.
By April 16, all six suspects were in custody.
On April 18, the Alameda County district attorney said Christian Burton, 16, who is alleged to have fired the shot that killed Boyer, would be tried as an adult on murder charges.
Citing confidentiality of juvenile records, the DA would not say which --if any -- of the various carjacking and shooting crimes the other five boys had been or would be charged with.
People in the community coming forward was a big key to solving the case. Some even steered investigators to important clues. For instance, some citizens noticed that the boys were all wearing khaki pants -- a probable school uniform.
"A lot of it was the community assistance," says Tran. "If you live among the silence, you live among the violence."
Tammerlin Drummond is a columnist for the Bay Area News Group. Her column runs Tuesday and Sunday. Contact her at tdrummond@bayareanewsgroup or follow her at Twitter.com/Tammerlin.