Man charged in 7 pellet gun attacks in Northern California

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — A man in Northern California has been charged with using a pellet gun to shoot people at random, including a 15-year-old girl who suffered a collapsed lung and a fractured rib, authorities said.

Nicholas Montoya, a resident of Campbell, was charged Wednesday with seven felony counts of assault with a deadly weapon after he allegedly shot at least seven people, most of them girls and women, between April and June in both Campbell and San Jose, authorities said Thursday.

“These were not childish pranks with a low-power weapon, these were deliberate snipe attacks on innocent victims," Santa Clara County Supervising Deputy District Attorney Marisa McKeown said.

Montoya did not enter a plea during a court appearance Wednesday and was ordered to return to court Sept. 14.

His attorney, Deputy Public Defender Ethan Weiss, did not immediately respond to an email message Friday seeking comment.

The investigation involved San Jose police, Campbell police, and the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office and officials said they did not have much physical evidence to examine because Montoya shot the victims from a moving car.

Detectives were able to link Montoya to the crimes after surveillance video showed his car at the scene of some of the attacks and after finding a pellet gun during a search of his home.

The victims included a man and six women and girls, including a 9-year-old girl who was walking with her mom up a flight of stairs at their San Jose apartment building when she was shot in the back by a high-powered pellet gun on June 10.

Robert Lara said physicians were unable to remove the pellet from the body of his daughter, Maria Elena, because removing it would cause more complications.

“What he did was disgraceful, and disgusting,” Lara said.

The day the child was attacked, Montoya also allegedly shot two others, including 15-year-old Gianna Vitarelli and a 42-year-old woman who reported being shot in the parking lot of a Walmart.

Vitarelli and a friend were walking home from the Valley Fair mall when a car pulled up behind them and someone inside opened fire, hitting her, police said.

She suffered a collapsed lung and a fractured rib. The pellet that entered her back missed her heart by a mere inch. Surgeons decided the pellet was too dangerous to remove, the Mercury News reported.

Investigators said Montoya may have been specifically targeting women.

“I have to believe he could have shot anyone out there he wanted to, but instead he shot six females, one of which was a 9-year-old girl and the one male that he struck was with a female,” San Jose Police Capt. Jason Dwyer said. “So we speculated that possibly he was shooting at her and hit him instead.”

Montoya is being held at the Elmwood men’s jail in San Jose. He faces 21 years in prison if convicted on all charges.