Jose Antonio Flores Velazquez, 23, and Alfredo Carrera, 24, were childhood friends who each had a bright future.
Flores Velazquez was a doctoral student at UC Irvine and well on his way to realizing his dream of becoming an astrophysicist.
Carrera was about to become a father.
On Wednesday, both men were fatally shot on the street where they grew up in South L.A. The gunman remains at large, police said.
Family members said that the two men were not involved in gangs or drugs and that they had no idea why the men were targeted.
The two were in Carrera’s driveway in the 1100 block of East 68th Street in the Florence-Firestone neighborhood about 7 p.m. when they were shot, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. A caller told authorities that a vehicle approached and a passenger pulled out a handgun.
An argument ensued and shots rang out, said Sheriff’s Lt. Derrick Alfred.
Flores Velazquez died at the scene and Carrera was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
No weapons were found on the victims, authorities said. The suspect’s vehicle was described only as a dark-colored sedan.
The families of both men said they were devastated by their loss.
Flores Velazquez’s dream was to get a good job at a prestigious institution so he could one day afford to buy a home for his parents, who are immigrants from Mexico, so that his father would not have to work such long hours at his construction job.
“They didn’t let him finish,” his father, Ramon Valdez, said in a telephone interview with The Times, his wife sobbing in the background. “He was just about to see the fruits of his labor.”
Flores Velazquez, who family members said always carried a notebook with him, navigated his two worlds with apparent ease.
Earlier in the week, he had given a talk on galaxy formations to a group of international researchers at UC Irvine, said James Bullock, dean of the university’s School of Physical Sciences.
“Jose was an incredibly promising student in astrophysics and was a rising star in his field,” Bullock said. “We were fortunate that he came to UCI to pursue his PhD. His loss will be widely felt and mourned on campus and in the community.”
The two men had recently been discussing a future schedule that would allow Flores Velazquez to work from home and spend more time with his family, Bullock said.
”Before he died, he submitted a draft of his research paper in which he used advanced supercomputer simulations to interpret telescopes’ observations about the rate at which galaxies form stars,” Bullock said, adding that the school was working on publishing his “cutting-edge” findings.
Carrera’s girlfriend, Marilyn Cuevas, 24, was expecting their first child, due next month, according to family members.
Anabel Carrera, the man’s sister, said her brother had been studying at Cal State Northridge and was hoping to one day become a safety inspector for the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health. But he recently stopped going to school so he could take on a second job and provide for his new baby, she said.
“He was a very sweet guy, never in trouble,” said his sister, crying. “He was trying to get an apartment for his girlfriend and baby. He was excited to celebrate.”
Flores Velazquez had gone to Carrera’s house to drop off gifts for a baby shower scheduled for Saturday, according to Jason Flores, Flores Velazquez’s 18-year-old brother.
“He was just delivering presents, being a great friend that he was,” he said.
Flores, who is also studying physics, said his brother had his sights set on one day working at NASA. Flores Velazquez graduated from Cal Poly Pomona in 2015 with a degree in physics and had held research assistant positions at Northwestern University’s Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, according to his family.
While studying for his doctorate at UC Irvine, Flores Velazquez usually visited home on Friday evenings, but this week he came home early to prepare for a weekend camping trip with some of his classmates, his family said.
On the weekends, when Flores Velazquez was at home, his father would often wake early to find his son working on his computer at the kitchen table.
“Almost done,” he would promise his father.
His parents may have understood their son’s ambition, but they didn’t always comprehend his complex studies. The large whiteboards that he kept at the house on which he passionately wrote his notes were largely indecipherable to them.
“Only he understood what he wrote,” his father said. “All you could see were galaxies.”
Sclafani writes for Times Community News.