Maryvale block watchers refuse to be thwarted by serial shooter

PHOENIX — Despite a nerve-wracking wave of violence, Maryvale neighbors work to thwart the serial shooter, discouraging petty crime along the way.

On Wednesday, six women on a mission piled into Rosa Pastrana’s car, spending an hour delivering fliers with a police sketch of the suspect.

The shootings that have claimed the lives of seven people, mostly in Maryvale, began April 1. Police have connected the incidents to what they believe is a single shooter.

Rosa Pastrana, captain of the Osborn Block Watch, said she is concerned for Maryvale, but won’t let the looming threat of violence break her from the empowerment of patrolling for crime and blight in her neighborhood.

“I’m worried. I’m worried for my community and I’m worried for my family. But I’m not scared,” she said, “…Because the guy killing (in) the community – he’s not scared. But maybe he sees now that people are mad, he will be scared.”

Pastrana founded the Osborn Block Watch a year ago after her truck was stolen three times by three different people, when the area was still battling rampant gang activity. While the shooter is on the forefront of everyone’s mind, she says the most prevalent issues in Maryvale are homelessness, stolen vehicles and abandoned houses.

In the past year, the Maryvale Estrella Mountain Precinct saw more than 2,000 violent crimes, most of which were aggravated assault or robbery, according to data from the Phoenix Police Department. Property crimes are most frequent, with more than 2,000 vehicles stolen in the last year.

“I can see the lights aren’t working, the cars, the people, anything suspicious; I call the police,” Pastrana said.

Now the block watch is up to nearly 20 members, most of them women and mothers. Every block-watch member must receive Phoenix Neighborhood Patrol training from a Phoenix Police Department sergeant before taking to the streets. Their job is to report crime or blight – they aren’t supposed to approach anyone.

Pastrana often pulls the late-night shift, beginning about midnight and lasting until the early hours of the morning. All of the shootings occurred in the driveways of homes during the middle of the night.

Before they set out every day, the watchers pick a patrol buddy and place several magnetic block watch decals on their car to alert people to their presence.

On Wednesday, the SUV is full of laughter as six high-spirited women navigate the streets of Maryvale, calling out directions and pointing to houses where they want to stop. They plan to pass out reward flyers provided by the Silent Witness program. Anyone can call the tip line at 480-948-6377, to anonymously report a lead.

“We are focusing on this because we want to find this guy,” said Pastrana.

Monica Baquera-Ortiz, a mother of three, describes the feeling she gets on patrol as “adrenaline” combined with fear “because you never know what you’re going to find.”

Her neighbors are mostly receptive to their patrol stops, but occasionally cast sideways glances. Some don’t answer the door.

“Sometimes they look at us like, ‘oh, what are you doing,’ like we’re doing something bad or wrong,” said Baquera-Ortiz.

They stop at the home of Flora Bhehea, who has lived 22 years in Maryvale. She hesitantly accepts their flyers and a block-watch sign to post in her window. She never felt that her neighborhood was unsafe, until now.

“I hope and pray that they catch this person very quickly,” Bhehea said in Spanish.

Bhehea does find comfort in the work that the neighborhood block watches are doing.

“We have to have confidence in the police and the patrol. I’m looking at what they ladies are doing here,” she said.

As the other women cheerfully bounce from door to door with fliers in hand, Pastrana takes a photo of a house that appears abandoned, surrounded by tall weeds and a rusting car. She will send the photo to the city. She said she always on the lookout for graffiti, dirty alleyways and potential harbors for crime.

The block-watch women believe patrolling helps to keep their community safe and unites them as friends and as mothers.

“We’re close. We work on the block watch together, gather together, make food,” Baquera-Ortiz said. “We’re almost co-madres.”