As Los Angeles police began canvassing the quiet Silver Lake neighborhood for clues about who may have killed Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s father, family friends began arriving at the home to pay their respects.
Lauren Wayne, who said she has known the family for two decades, walked past the row of television cameras and left a small bouquet of red and white flowers near crime scene tape.
“I don’t understand what happened – how it happened,” said Wayne, who described herself as a close friend of one of Joseph Gatto’s three children, Marianna Gatto. ”I don’t understand.”
“I saw it on the news and I didn’t believe it,” Wayne said. “So I called [Marianna] and she said it was true. It’s like a bad dream.”
Wayne said Marianna Gatto ate dinner with her father every Wednesday night. When the elder Gatto didn’t show up, she and her fiance went to his home in the 2800 block of Bright Lane. They found him slumped over his desk about 8:15 p.m.
Los Angeles police Lt. Richard Parks said the elder Gatto was shot at least once in the chest with a small-caliber handgun and was pronounced dead at the scene.
Marianna Gatto was planning a May wedding, Wayne said. “I guess he won’t be there to walk her down the aisle,” she said, choking back tears.
Wayne believes robbery must have been the motive because “no one in the world would have hurt Joe Gatto.”
"Senseless and brutal," she added.
She described him as a loving grandfather and a wonderful dad. He was a “peaceful” man who cared about his community and family, she said.
“They were all inspired by him," Wayne said. "We were all inspired by him.... Joe was an incredible and beautiful man.”
In one of his runs for Assembly, Mike Gatto said in his biography that his father became a public school teacher "and never missed a day of work during his entire 40-plus-year career."
"A schoolteacher's salary was enough to provide good healthcare and save a little for college," Gatto said in his biography on his political website. "When times were tough, Mike's father worked three jobs, including teaching on Saturdays and working nights at Dodger Stadium."
Mike Gatto -- a Democrat who represents the 43rd District, which includes Silver Lake, Burbank, Glendale and part of the La Crescenta foothills region -- had been "made aware of his father’s passing," Parks said.
Reached by phone in Sacramento on Thursday morning, Mike Gatto confirmed that his sister made the discovery after she hadn't heard from their father all day.
"She went over there and found him dead," he said.
LAPD sources said a 15-person team is working the killing, led by robbery-homicide detectives. They have discovered no obvious reason for the killing but are examining whether it is connected to Gatto's jewelry business.
Police haven't ruled out a random crime or something personal, the sources said.
Joseph Gatto, 78, had retired after 45 years as an art and design teacher who taught at both the primary and college levels. He taught at institutions including Pierce College, Cal State Northridge, Cal State Los Angeles, the Otis Art Institute and the Art Center in Pasadena.
He was also the founder and longtime chairman of the visual arts department at the L.A. County High School for the Arts.
Joseph Gatto also received a number of education awards, including the Distinguished Teacher of the Year award at the White House. After retiring from teaching, he started a jewelry design venture, Wear Art Now.
Detectives said it appeared the residence had been ransacked, but it was unclear if any property was stolen.
In a 2012 interview posted on modernsilver.com, Joseph Gatto said he was born in Pueblo, Colo., in December 1934 and went to Fairfax High School in Los Angeles.
After junior college, he said he "read someplace that only 2% of the population of artists make a living selling their art. I did not think I could pay my way through college or later earning a living as an artist, so I would have to make a choice. I made a decision, then and there, that I would be the best teacher that I could possibly be."
He told the interviewer that he was eventually hired at Granada Hills High School in 1961 and taught for decades.
"The feat that I was most proud of is that I had not missed a day of school since the fourth grade. And, that was a half day when I was out with the mumps."