Friends gathered at a sidewalk memorial Sunday to mourn the death of Francisco "Frankie" Garcia, a U.S. Army veteran who was shot and killed after a dispute erupted outside a party at his girlfriend's Sylmar home.
The mourners brought sunflowers and candles to mark the site where the 22-year-old who recently returned from a tour in Afghanistan was fatally shot about 2 a.m. Sunday, kneeling, praying and crying as they remembered their friend.
Garcia had returned from Afghanistan about four months ago, several of his friends said. He was living with his parents in a Sylmar condominium complex about 2 miles from where he died.
Garcia was shot and killed in the 13200 block of Dronfield Avenue before 2 a.m. after a dispute erupted outside the party, said Lt. Paul Vernon, of the Los Angeles Police Department.
"The ironies are obvious," Vernon said. "To survive as a soldier in an overseas conflict, only to be killed in your old neighborhood upon your return."
Garcia had been celebrating with family and friends at the home of his girlfriend nearby when partygoers decided to move to a new location, said Det. Juan Santa.
Two cars pulled up to where the group was standing near Astoria Street, when the occupant of one of the cars jumped out, smashed a beer bottle on the ground and yelled at Garcia, Santa said.
It appears that the dispute did not originate at the party but stemmed from a previous confrontation, he said. The killer walked to the other vehicle, retrieved a handgun from the occupant and began shooting at Garcia.
"There was more than likely a verbal exchange, but it's not clear what the nature of the dispute was," Santa said. Police are continuing to search for the gunman.
Garcia grew up in Sylmar and was well known in the neighborhood as a caring and outgoing young man, friends said. He had begun working as a security guard.
Brian Enriquez, 21, said he, Garcia and a group of friends had started Saturday night drinking at Garcia's girlfriend's house. When she decided to go to sleep, they headed over to another gathering at a house near Sylmar High School.
"As soon as we were crossing the street, some guys came up, pulled out a gun, shot at us. We ran," Enriquez said. "The last bullet the guy shot hit Frankie."
Enriquez said he had never seen the assailants before. Enriquez recalled the shooter saying "are you ready for this?" before opening fire.
He said he had known Garcia since middle school and saw him every day. The two were so close that Mora refers to Garcia as his brother.
"He was a very loving, caring person," Enriquez said. "He would always have a smile on his face. An all-around amazing individual."
Enriquez said he had no idea why anyone would want to hurt Garcia.
"It was always in his nature to help, no matter the circumstance," he said.
Fernando Mora, 25, of Van Nuys, a friend for the last six years, said that when Garcia returned from his deployments in the Middle East, he said that several fellow soldiers and friends had died there.
"He came back alive," Mora said. "So to die like this, it's not right."
Mora said he last saw Garcia at a homecoming party last week. On Sunday morning, Mora wept as he crouched down to pray for Garcia on the sidewalk at the memorial. Mora brought flowers, candles and his 6-month-old son, Mason.
Garcia had no children, but had recently told Mora that he wanted kids someday.
"He was supposed to meet my boy," Mora said. "He never got to meet him."
Mora described Garcia as a big, strong young man who was down to earth and outgoing.
"He was the life of the whole group and would even get the shy people to open up," Mora said.
The shooting rattled residents in the usually peaceful neighborhood near Sylmar High with pine and palm-lined streets, ranch-style houses and stucco apartments and condominiums with mountain views.
Valentin Alcantar, 36, was asleep in the living room of his apartment when he was awoken by gunfire. He heard a second series of gunshots and then the sound of a car speeding away.
When the police arrived, Alcantar looked on from his apartment to see a group of friends around Garcia trying to keep him alive by giving him CPR.
"Hurry up, his heart's still beating," he heard one of the young men say. Then, an ambulance arrived and they pulled a white sheet over Garcia.
Alcantar also saw a gray car with bullet holes that police later towed from the scene.