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On Dec. 14, Joe Melgoza was on top of the world. That afternoon, he tied the knot with his fiancée at a big church in Chino Hills, California. Melgoza, clad in a navy blue vest and a bowtie, beamed alongside his three brothers — his groomsmen — in a photograph snapped at the reception.
Hours later, Melgoza, 30, was dead, allegedly beaten to death with bats by two wedding crashers.
Chino police responded to the reception on Oaks Avenue around 2:20 a.m. on Sunday. Two guests had been wounded and the alleged attackers were nowhere in sight. The clash started outside the home during the reception and spilled into a back alley, according to police.
Melgoza was later found unresponsive in the backyard of a house down the street. He had sustained severe blunt force trauma to the head and was transported to Chino Valley Medical Center, where he later died.
Police arrested brothers Rony Aristides Castaneda, 28, and Josue Daniel Castaneda Ramirez, 19, at their home that afternoon. And on Tuesday, prosecutors charged both brothers with first-degree murder and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon, according to a criminal complaint obtained by Oxygen.com.
Police haven’t yet released a motive but said the brothers had no reason to be at the reception. The siblings apparently live on an adjacent street a few minutes walk from where the family was celebrating.
"They don’t have any relationship to the victim or anybody else at the reception,” Sgt. Dustin Tomicic told Oxygen.com.
The groom’s family also doesn't know how — or why — the men showed up. Andy Velasquez, Melgoza's brother and best man, said it didn’t immediately occur to him or the family that the two men were intruders.
“They were at the bar with us,” he said.
Velasquez, 24, said they could see the Ramirezes mingling and blending in with the crowd during the celebration.
“Because it was such a big party and it was two big families, we just assumed that somebody knew them, because they were right there among us,” Velasquez told Oxygen.com.
Velasquez left the reception shortly after 2 a.m., and got a call 20 minutes later about the attack. He returned to the site of the reception to find the street swarming with police.
The remaining wedding guests had apparently confronted the Ramirez brothers and demanded they leave, according to Velasquez. They complied, but later returned with a baseball bat after most of the guests had already left.
At one point, the groom’s brother-in-law, Juan Bustamente, jumped the backyard fence in pursuit of the wedding crashers, according to Velasquez. Bustamente was then allegedly smacked in the head with a bat.
“He was bleeding from his head — he didn’t know where he was,” Velasquez said.
Melgoza tailed his friend into the “pitch black” alley, and what happened next is a mystery, Velasquez said. It’s also unclear how the groom wound up in the yard of a house down the street.
“We don’t know if they dragged him to that house or if he chased them down to the house,” Velasquez said.
The house where Melgoza was found was otherwise empty, according to police.
Melgoza, who worked as a formula blender at Ventura Foods, started dating his wife, Esther Bustamente, roughly a year ago, family said. The couple had known each other for nearly 10 years.
“The story is horrific,” Sgt. Tomicic said. “I can only imagine the grief that the family is going through, and pain, and I wish them the best in this healing process.”
The wedding was a beautiful affair, up until the attack, Velasquez said.
“Everybody had an amazing time,” Velasquez described. “Everybody was so happy. My brother looked so handsome. I just remember seeing him smile — and his smile was so big. Everybody was so happy. And then the best night of his life turned into the worst.”
Velasquez lamented that didn’t have the chance to say goodbye to his big brother — and said he wishes he'd hung around longer at the reception.
“He held my hand so tight before and he told me, ‘You got me, right, bro?’ And I told him, ‘You know I got you forever, bro, you know this.’ And I left — he died and I couldn’t save him.”
Melgoza was the oldest of five siblings and a role model who “loved everybody,” Velasquez said.
“Joe was the realest person I ever met,” he said. “Before you can even finish your sentence, if you just told him you’re struggling, you already had $100 in your hand — he was that type of person. And he wanted to make sure everybody was okay, especially his family. And that’s why he died, protecting his family. He was the best brother I could ever ask for."
“We all miss him so much,” Melgoza's other brother, 22-year-old Matthew Velasquez, told Oxygen.com. “We are all lost and devastated."
Melgoza also leaves behind his 11-year-old daughter, Lily, now in his family's care. A GoFundMe campaign started by cousins has since raised more than $15,000 to help support her.
“We don’t know how to console her or how to explain that he’s not going to be here no more and it breaks my heart,” Andy Velasquez also said. “She says, ‘I miss my daddy,’ and we can’t do nothing for her.”
Andy will also be missing a father figure, he said.
“He showed me how to be a man, how to be a father, how to work hard, how to be responsible. I don’t know what I’m going to do without my brother. He was there for me, always. He guided me through everything.”
The Ramirezes were arraigned at Rancho Cucamonga Superior Court on Tuesday. The pair are being held without bail, a spokesperson for the San Bernardino County District Attorney said.
“They’re going to rot in prison for the rest of their lives for what they did to us,” Andy Velasquez said upon learning the men had been officially charged.
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