A third-grade teacher snapped photographs of a person walking away from Pier 14 when almost everyone else was rushing to help a fatally injured Kathryn Steinle, a police sergeant testified in court Tuesday.
The woman then brought the pictures of the person she believed to be suspicious to police officers at the scene of the July 1 homicide. Police later said they used witness photographs to identify Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, the man arrested nearby on suspicion of murder.
Lopez-Sanchez appeared in shackles before a San Francisco Superior Court judge Tuesday for his preliminary hearing, during which attorneys presented evidence for the first time in the controversial homicide case.
Steinle was struck in the back by a single bullet while walking arm-in-arm with her father James Steinle on the pier near The Embarcadero and Mission Street, homicide Sgt. Nico Discenza testified.
Her father “heard a pop” soon after he’d taken a selfie with Steinle and a family friend on the pier. Then “he went down with her,” Discenza testified.
“Somebody started calling for help,” Discenza said. “A man came to help … pulled up her dress and saw she was shot in the back.”
Around the same time, 32-year-old Maria Moreno was watching the Giants game in her fifth-floor hotel room across from Pier 14 when she heard a bang, Discenza said.
Moreno, a school teacher, went to her window and saw the ruckus unfolding, Discenza said. Moreno saw a woman sprawled across the ground amid a crowd of people. She saw more people heading toward the woman.
The teacher also saw what she told Discenza appeared to be a suspicious person shuffling away from the scene, while everyone but a woman on her phone headed toward it.
That’s when the teacher snapped several photos of the man, who she thought was black, wearing a black pea coat and dark clothing, Discenza said.
Moreno’s photographs were shown in court Tuesday alongside pictures taken by another tourist, a woman who had been on Pier 14.
Those photos showed the same figure in black, who Sgt. Conroy Tam identified, based on the woman’s account, as the suspected shooter.
“He was sitting in one of the chairs along the pier and swiveling in circles,” Tam said of the suspected shooter, based on the witness’ report.
Also in the background of her photos, which her family has been cropped out of, are Steinle and her father.
Soon after the fatal shooting, two of the witness photos were emailed to every sworn officer in The City captioned “187 suspect,” Sgt. Anthony Ravano said in his testimony. Ravano is a homicide investigator in the case.
The photos led to Lopez-Sanchez’s arrest at gunpoint about an hour after the shooting.
The next morning, police were also able to find the alleged murder weapon based on a witness who had seen an unknown object fly off the pier and splash in the water, Ravano said.
Surveillance footage from a nearby fire station that captured the object’s splash, and early on July 2 police divers found the object, which turned out to be a gun.
The weapon has since been tested at the SFPD Crime Lab to see if it matches the bullet that killed Steinle.
Ballistic evidence is expected to be presented in court Wednesday morning.
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