Relatives of a Long Beach man who was shot and killed during a family reunion in a city park over the weekend said they believe the victim was targeted because he is black.
Frederick Taft, 57, was shot and killed inside a restroom at Pan American Park in the 5100 block of Centralia Avenue around 4:30 p.m. Saturday, according to a news release issued by the Long Beach Police Department.
There were between 40 and 50 people at the family reunion, most of whom were African American, according to David Malonson, the victim’s 35-year-old nephew.
Taft, who is survived by his daughter, Corie, was a truck driver who relatives described as a devoted family man.
“He was the person who everyone would call when they needed something getting done,” Malonson said. “He was a jack-of-all-trades uncle.”
Sakeena Christmon, a friend of Taft’s who was at the reunion party, said she saw a man carrying a rifle run out of the bathroom toward Centralia Avenue after the shooting. He was wearing khaki shorts, calf-high socks and a fishing hat, she said.
Given that Taft was shot while alone in the bathroom, Christmon said she believed the killing was racially motivated and pre-planned.
“He came here on a mission to kill,” she said.
Arantxa Chavarria, a Long Beach police spokeswoman, described the suspect as a white man in his 50s, but said detectives had not “uncovered any evidence of a hate crime.”
“Evidence is still being collected and analyzed,” she wrote in an email.
Police also declined to say what type of weapon was used in the attack.
On Monday evening, nearly 100 people gathered in the park to pray and demand justice for Taft just outside the bathroom where he was shot and killed two days ago.
Several of Taft’s relatives and friends said they believed he was targeted because of his race.
“It wasn’t a robbery. They didn’t take his wallet. So what else was it?” asked Mareatha Moore, the mother of Taft’s daughter.
She said she couldn’t believe someone as kind and considerate as Taft would wind up dead in a shooting.
“I thought we would get to be old and in our wheelchairs together,” she said. “This was the last person you would expect.”
People milled near rows of votive candles and about a dozen balloons before walking up to a poster board to write goodbye messages to Taft. The bathroom remained chained shut.
Taft’s daughter, Corie, said her father was a “big-hearted” person who loved to spend time with his relatives, especially his grandchildren. Hours after the shooting, the 29-year-old said, a player from a nearby softball game told Taft’s grieving relatives that his group had been harassed in the park earlier that day by a group of white men on bicycles who were using racial slurs.
A short time later, she said, a man pulled up in a white Prius, laughed and shouted something about a “187 in the park” before driving off.