Except for a few bumps in the road, Jacob DeWitt had a normal upbringing in Mountain View, say local residents who knew him. When he was a boy, his dad coached the local Little League team and his mom baked cookies for parties at Landels Elementary School.
Today, the 19-year-old sits in jail, accused of stabbing a young man gangland-style on Escuela Avenue in early January. It's a contrast that Muriel Sivyer-Lee, whose sons grew up with DeWitt, can't get her head around.
"I was surprised," Sivyer-Lee said, upon hearing of DeWitt's alleged crimes. "Mr. White Boy, with beautiful blue eyes and long eyelashes, was in the Nortenos. I don't know how Jacob went from playing baseball on the Rockies with his dad to stabbing someone in the side."
According to police, DeWitt and fellow Norteno gang member George Oseida, 21, attacked the victim on Sunday, Jan. 6 at 3:30 p.m. outside his apartment complex on the 600 block of Escuela Avenue, stabbing him repeatedly in the torso and punching him in the head. When the attackers left, the victim, whose identity is being withheld, went to a neighbor who called police. He says he did not know his attackers.
Police determined the attack was gang-related, and the victim later identified DeWitt and Oseida in a photo line-up. The two suspects were arrested Jan. 14 during a car stop on the Highway 85 off-ramp to Moffett Boulevard.
Police spokesperson Liz Wylie said DeWitt was a registered gang member, a status relatively difficult to attain but made possible by his record as a juvenile. She said he also has numerous tattoos on his arms and legs, some displaying his gang affiliation.
In fact, Wylie said, Mountain View police were so familiar with DeWitt that officers were able to guess his identity -- and quickly assemble the photo line-up -- based on his description. The victim, who is recovering from multiple stab wounds, identified DeWitt as the one who held the knife and Oseida, a San Jose resident, as his accomplice.
The two face charges of attempted murder, with a gang enhancement charge of up to 10 years each. DeWitt faces additional charges for allegedly using a deadly weapon to induce bodily harm. A court date in the case is scheduled for Feb. 13 at 9 a.m. in the Palo Alto courthouse.
Police believe the attackers saw the victim as a rival Sureno. "For gang members, believing somebody might be involved with a rival gang is often reason enough," Wylie said.
According to deputy district attorney Leigh Frazier, DeWitt faces up to 19 years in prison if convicted. Oseida, who Frazier said has two other "strikes" on his record -- both for assaults, including one with a deadly weapon -- faces life in prison.
As to how often a white person is a member of a Latino gang, "It's not unheard of, though it's not the norm," Frazier said. She said three of her last 25 cases in the DA's gang unit involved whites who are members of either the Nortenos or Surenos -- the predominant Latino gangs in Mountain View.
According to Sivyer-Lee, DeWitt's parents were divorced and struggling, but worked hard and remained involved in their son's life. His mother baked cookies for classroom parties at Landels, and his dad coached the boy's Little League team, she said. Sivyer-Lee's two sons attended Landels and Graham Middle School with DeWitt.
While DeWitt was at Graham, his mother suffered a stroke, leaving her temporarily paralyzed, Sivyer-Lee said.
But Sivyer-Lee puts much of the blame on Graham itself, where she says too many kids, missing something at home, have been introduced to gangs. It's something she claims she's witnessed as both a parent and a substitute teacher.
"After living here 28 years I think the middle schools are our biggest problem, and I think they continue to be," she said. "I was a substitute teacher. I swore I would never ever come back to this school because of the lack of respect" from students.
"I think that's going to be an ongoing challenge for the district. I see it getting worse and worse."
(To deal with gang activity, Graham and Crittenden middle schools hired full-time gang prevention officers in 2006.)
Sivyer-Lee said the stabbing incident made her ask herself, "What prevented my kids from going down that road as well?"
"Parents have to be overly protective these days," she continued. "You give them an inch and they take a mile. Especially a boy who is determined to do what he wants to do."
As for her sons' old friend, Jacob DeWitt, "His life is ruined now."