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Community mourns death of Mission man killed by SFPD

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People lit candles during a vigil for a man who was fatally shot by SFPD on Tuesday night at 21st and Capp streets. (Emma Marie Chiang/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Less than 24 hours after San Francisco police officers shot and killed the suspect of an armed robbery in the Mission District on Tuesday night, some 50 people gathered near the intersection of 21st and Capp streets to honor a young man whom friends described as a hard worker, with a unique sense of humor and a bright smile.

As of Wednesday evening, the San Francisco Medical Examiner had not released the name of the suspect, who was allegedly hidden in the trunk of a black Honda Civic when police fatally shot him. Police said officers were flagged down near 20th and Capp streets at about 10:36 p.m. on Tuesday by two victims of the robbery, and opened fire after attempting to detain the suspect.

A handgun was later found in the trunk of the Civic. The Civic’s driver and a female passenger complied with orders to exit the car before the shooting and were detained, according to police.

On Wednesday, candles were placed on a piece of sidewalk along Capp Street, next to photographs of a smiling young man dressed in a green graduation gown, steps away from where stains on the cement marked the spot where the suspect was killed.

“It was the most horrific thing I have ever seen in my life. It was a firing squad to me,” said Margot Goldstein, who lives on the block where the shooting occured and said she witnessed the incident from her home.

“The young woman who they took out of the car was screaming,” said Goldstein, a former teacher at the nearby John O’Connell High School, who said the suspect was friends with several of her former students. Several friends of the slain man said that he was a John O’Connell graduate. 

“There is absolutely no way this should be. You have over two dozen officers with military weapons — I’m sure they can find helmets and other materials to protect themselves,” said Goldstein.

Ajahni Sotelo knew the slain man for the better part of six years, and even invited him to dinner at a Peruvian restaurant in the Mission hours before the shooting took place.

“He said he was going home, and I trusted it. He was with a good person,” said Sotelo, who is employed with The City’s Recreation and Parks Department. “I didn’t think that when I saw it on the news when I woke up [today], that it was going to be him. It hurt me in my heart.”

“If he had gone out with me, I believe he wouldn’t be where he is now. He would still be with us, smiling,” added Sotelo.

Sotelo said that his friend, whom he described as “18 or 19 years old,” was steadily employed at the Metro PCS store near 20th and Mission streets, where he would often work late nights.

“He would stay at home a lot and not come out,” said another friend of the slain man, who declined to give his name. “Whenever he did come out, it was always a treat, and he was the life of the party.”

A family friend present at the vigil, Alba Espinoza, said she has known the slain man’s family for more than a decade, and described them as “good people” who immigrated from Michoacan, Mexico.

The man was the youngest of five children — three older brothers and one sister — and the son of a domestic worker, she said. He grew up in the Mission District, near 21st and Alabama streets, where he and his friends would regularly hang out at the Boys and Girls Club of San

“We are the Mission club. The Mission clubhouse, on 21st and Alabama, that’s where we all grew up,” said a friend of the slain man who gave his name as Jesus. “We all played football at the club, and basketball. Me and [him], we would always be together, tried our best to just hang out, go around the Mission, walking around, having some good talks.”

The shooting left a hole in the community where gun violence is not uncommon. Hours before the vigil, at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, friends and family members of another slain man gathered at 19th and Shotwell streets, where a 45-year-old homeless man armed with a knife was gunned down by police in 2016.

“Every seventh of the month we go out to the corner of Shotwell and 19th streets where Luis Gongora Pat was killed,” said Adriana Camarena, an advocate for the family of Gongora Pat, who have been calling for charges against the officers involved in that shooting. “We got drowned out in our own vigil by the helicopters overhead, and we walked over here and are here to support the family.”

Violence prevention workers and community advocates present at the Capp Street vigil said they had come to create a safe space for the young people affected by the shooting to express their anger and mourn their loss. They invited the Mission youth to attend a “circulo,” or circle, at the Alabama Street Boys and Girls Club to talk about the incident on Thursday.

Following Wednesday’s vigil, many of the Mission District youth marched to the neighborhood’s police station at 17th and Valencia streets to protest the officer-involved shooting.

“As you take in this deep breath, you take in this air that sustains you and keeps you going, appreciate the life that you have in you,” said Nancy Pili Hernandez, a community activist and teacher at John O’Connell High School, addressing dozens of youth who were in attendance.

“Make good decisions, be in good places, do good things for this neighborhood, create art, teach kids, take care of people, protect the environment, stand up for justice,” she said. “Because so much work was done for us to be able to be here.”

Update: KPIX has since obtained a witness video appearing to show the suspect shoot first at police.

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