10 years later: Cold case, fresh grief
by Jennifer Wadsworth/ TP staff
Jul 28, 2009 | 7450 views | 12 12 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Gary Bowen and his son Kyle look over the billboard bearing the photos of Jason Bowen and Samuel Salinas (not pictured), who were murdered 10 years ago.  No one has been tried for their killings to this day, though Gary Bowen swears he knows who the killers are.  Glenn Moore/Tracy Press
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Ten years to the day after the bullet-riddled bodies of two Tracy teenagers were found in the Hayward hills, their killer or killers have yet to be convicted.

Fathers of slain 16-year-old Jason Bowen and 17-year-old Samuel Salinas cleaned up a billboard just west of Tracy this week. A polished sign with the teens’ pictures may remind the public that the case remains unsolved and that the people responsible for the shootings are still out there, said Jason’s father, Gary Bowen.

“We’re still victims of this,” he said. “Nothing was accomplished, nothing gained. Where is justice for me, for the families, for the children who were killed?”

Jason and his friend Samuel met up late one summer night to hang out in their central Tracy neighborhood. The next morning — July 29, 1999 — police found the pair shot to death, their bodies 30 yards apart on a grassy embankment about 40 miles west of Tracy. Shell casings from semiautomatic handguns littered the ground around Samuel’s body, indicating that he may have been shot on the spot. Police believe Jason, and maybe Samuel as well, was killed elsewhere and then driven to the scene.

News of the slaying sent the teens’ families into a physically sickening depression.

“That was our summer of sorrow,” said Gary Bowen.

“We became ill,” added Samuel’s father, Herminio Salinas, who moved to Fremont with his wife, Rosa, a few years after their son’s death because they couldn’t stand to live in the city where they last saw their son alive.

“We could not get out of bed,” Herminio Salinas said. “We just did not want to live without our son.”

The Salinases let their home-based house-cleaning business fall by the wayside. The emotional problems from their son’s death led to the Bowens’ divorce. To enjoy life for both families became a struggle.

Justice could have helped alleviate the sadness by bringing a sense of closure, the two families said. But still, investigators know too little about what happened that night and have too little evidence to point to a suspect.

Detectives turned to the public for help as the family raised reward money payable for information leading to an arrest and conviction. The California Governor’s Office eventually contributed $50,000 to the fund, bringing the reward to $100,000.

In 2002, three years after the slayings and thanks to a tipster, Hayward police arrested three men on suspicion of killing the boys.

Michael Ybarra, of Tracy, was accused, but never actually convicted, of acting as an accomplice to murder. Roneel Pillay and Robel Fusum — both just a couple years older than the victims — were released after sitting in the Alameda County Jail for four months. Another man, a 45-year-old from Tracy, was suspected at one time of destroying evidence. He was never charged in the case.

There wasn’t enough proof to convict any of them, according to the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office.

“When those men were released, it was like a betrayal,” Herminio Salinas said during a rare visit to Tracy with his wife. “And all those feelings of loss, of anger, they all came back like a fresh wound.”

Only Ybarra was locked up, but just for a couple of years. He, too, was released in February 2007 after spending two years in jail awaiting trial as an accomplice to the Bowen-Salinas murder. Just months out on probation, the one-time Tracy resident was rearrested and convicted for having sex with a 15-year-old girl.

That is some measure of justice for Bowen, but not much.

“At least one is behind bars,” Gary Bowen said, “but not the shooter. It’s torture to know that.”

The bereaved father said he knows who killed his son and where it happened. He insists that police arrested the men guilty of the crime, and that prosecutors had the right suspects, but dropped the ball by setting them free.

The families of the slain Tracy teens want to remind the public that the case is still open.

“Many times cases are presented and they don’t come up to that level of proof you need to prosecute it,” said Assistant District Attorney Richard Klemmer, who declined to elaborate.

The case was sent back to Hayward police and stagnated. As a cold case, police no longer actively pursue the investigation.

“In a homicide case — they are always considered open until they’re successfully prosecuted,” said Lt. Chris Orrey, an investigator for the Hayward Police Department. “But in this case, right now, we don’t have any active investigative leads to pursue.”

It will take new information — a fresh tip, evidence or testimony — to strengthen the case for trial, she said.

“We still hold on to that hope,” Gary Bowen said. “Someone out there knows something that could bring justice to our family and Sam’s family.”

Until then, however, the two families said they can’t help but harbor some frustration toward the prosecutors who handled the case.

“There’s nothing that makes us feel more powerless than to know that our sons’ killers are living life,” Herminio Salinas said, his eyes welling up with tears. “And our boys barely had that chance.”

n Contact Tracy Press reporter Jennifer Wadsworth at 830-4225 or jwadsworth@tracypress.com.
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October 14, 2009
May it work! Hope someone reads the article and does the right thing and comes forward to help PD to finally put them away for "street terrorism" as it's called. Definitely sad. Maybe someone will pitch in and put the signs in Hayward too. Cover both bases instead of just one.
October 14, 2009
Does anyone know the answer to this question? Have the families for Samuel and Jason sued the three suspects previously? The statute of limitations may have passed for wrongful death claims, but I wonder what testimony the three suspects would have given in videoptaped depositions. If not, maybe the parents for the 15-year old girl who accused Michael Ybarra of a sexual crime can file suit on her behalf and her lawyer can dig up some dirt on these guys which may lead to more evidence. I am surprised if none of this has been done in the past.
August 07, 2009
A cannot imagine...

Yes, there is no love like that of a parent and a child. I pray for you all and hope that someone finally has the cajones to come forward and do the right thing.
August 07, 2009
My heart goes out to the Salinas & Bowen family. My son was shot multiple times and killed in a park in Union City a few months ago and I understand your pain. This was my life, I cannot seem to find anything to hold onto ACCEPT the fact that I have to see these people found and justice done. I cannot imagine or bear the thought of 10 years going by and still wandering what happened. I also have 3 billboards going up in the Fremont,Hayward and Union City area and I can only pray someone comes forward. We as parents cannot explain the pain and agony of losing a child. If anyone knows anything about these crimes they must come forward. Someday you will be parents too and you will experience the love a child can bring to your life. There is no love greater than that of a parent and child so please somebody for once do something. Rest in Peace Rodney my Son and Jason & Samuel...We all pray for you......Lesli Green
anonymous k
August 02, 2009
I know what the familes are going through, Not from loosing a child but from My Dad being murdered also and his case has never been closed, The dirt and flith that did this are also still out there some where. It is hard for some families to become stronger because it is very hard to live with. We do the best we can. I have been in Tracy a few times after my Dad was killed just to visit my Mom and younget brother and two Nephews but I had such pantic attacks from being ther i really did not stay long. So you see it is hard for some. My prayers go out to the families and hope they get closer so they can staart to heal.Mom had been gone for awhile so she is with Dad again.
July 29, 2009
July 29, 2009
I would snitch on Ybarra so fast it'd make his head swim. Not for the reward but because it's the right thing to do. The gang situation is part of a societal iceberg. The 10% you see above water represents the 90% you don't see that's below water. It's war,folks. Classic battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. It has been my experience thru 63 years of life that evil,confronted reveals itself as cowardice. I'd love to be Ybarra's cellmate,wear a wire then testify against him in court. I'd watch that video eating buttered popcorn and laughing.
Ornley Gumfudgen
July 29, 2009
Michael Ybarra knows what happened. How can ya be an accessory an not know? Fer that matter, knowin somethin about th family all of them probably know too. Definately gang related an I know that factually so before someone gets on my case fer talkin "smack" about them ya might just consider I have had unfortunate dealins around all of em in th past. So has the PD an DA. All they need is info that will stand up in court to prove an put these guys away fer good. But be careful if ya plant a snitch in his cell. Anythin that comes out of somethin like that will be that person's death warrant, it's th way th gangs operate, both inside an outside of jail.
July 29, 2009
Put a snitch in the cell with the guy who's still behind bars. Would I snitch on a murderer for $100,000? Frankly,I'd do for free. But the hundred grand would be icing on the cake.
July 29, 2009
In the article it is perfectly clear that the Hayward PD did the investigation. And it's clear that the killers were found. The prosecutor didn't think the evidence was good enough. The torture for the families here is knowing who the killers are but justice was not served. I have driven by the sign out on the freeway many times and I'm very impressed by the families vigilence. There can be nothing worse than trying to survive a senseless murder of your own child.

I'll bet the killers have bragged to someone about it and that someone needs to come forward help the police and prosecutor finish their job.
July 29, 2009
Jason and Sam were really good friends of mine and i hope they find there killers. They will never be forgotten. My prayers go out to there familys in hope that someone will come forward.

R.I.P Jason & Sam WE LOVE YOU!!!!!!
July 29, 2009
This was a case that Hayward PD was in control of. The article doesn't make it clear.

Sad to hear how the families let this ruin their lives. I'm sure their sons wouldn't want it that way. I know grief is powerful, but nobody would want their family to fall apart after such a tragedy. I hope they can find some peace somehow.

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