There was barely any time to react.
Luis Anaya was returning to his Long Beach home after a trip to the grocery store with his longtime girlfriend and daughter, he said, when a man stepped out of the darkness near the corner of Locust Avenue and East 9th Street on Saturday night.
Anaya didn’t recognize the man, whose face was “all covered up,” but the two had only briefly locked eyes by the time Anaya saw the gun.
“I couldn’t make his face,” he said. “When I tried to look at him, he shot at me.”
Anaya, 27, escaped unscathed, but the volley of bullets struck his girlfriend and daughter.
Carina Mancera, 26, and 4-year-old Jennabel were both shot about 10:20 p.m. Saturday, according to a statement issued by the Long Beach Police Department. Mancera died at the scene, and the child succumbed to her injuries at a hospital a short time later, police said.
As mother and daughter lay bleeding in the street, Anaya screamed so loudly that neighbor Robert Navarro said he thought the couple was having an argument.
Navarro ran out of his home and into the intersection, where he found Anaya desperately trying to comfort the mortally wounded mother and daughter.
“The baby … she still had her eyes open,” Navarro said. “He was trying to comfort her by calling the grandmother and the grandmother spoke to the baby on the phone.”
The baby … she still had her eyes open.
Twelve hours later, the little girl’s grandmother was standing in the same intersection, screaming out in Spanish and English, asking over and over why her daughter and granddaughter were dead.
Investigators had yet to determine a motive or identify a suspect in the slaying, leaving neighbors to wonder why anyone would open fire on a young woman and her child.
“How are you gonna see a family walking and go crazy?” asked Gabriel Sanchez, 26, a longtime friend of Mancera. “Why would you shoot a child? The child is just living life, innocent.”
As far as their friends knew, Anaya and Mancera didn’t have any enemies, and they weren’t involved in the gang lifestyle that sometimes drives violence in parts of Long Beach and nearby Compton. Anaya was a construction worker, and he began dating Mancera roughly five years ago after the two met at a party, friends said.
“She was a real cool girl. No drama with anybody. She didn’t have problems with anybody for someone to do this to her and her daughter,” said Sanchez, who remembered Mancera as a mischievous and friendly presence when they met at Long Beach’s Washington Middle School more than a decade ago.
Anaya and Mancera lived in an apartment on Locust Avenue , a brief walk from the intersection where the shooting took place. The couple’s next-door neighbor, 38-year-old Matt Milewski said he heard four gunshots in total -- an initial blast and then three shots in quick succession.
Violent crime has increased throughout Long Beach this year, up 8.2% from 2015, and the total number of homicides in the city was on pace to increase at the end of June, according to the most recent crime statistics published on the city Police Department’s website.
But Milewski said gunshots and violence are a rarity in the neighborhood, which sits less than two miles from the waterfront and just outside Long Beach’s downtown area.
The unexplained attack left residents grief-stricken.
At least two dozen people spent several hours Sunday crowded around a small memorial at the site of the shooting, placing votive candles and flowers at the base of the stop sign where Mancera and her daughter were killed. A pastor arrived to lead the group in a prayer, and several people made repeated and futile attempts to console Mancera’s mother, who covered her mouth and nearly fell to the ground as she approached the intersection.
“This is crazy, man,” said Jose Camacho, a 38-year-old neighbor who was at the scene Saturday night and saw the victims bleeding in the street. They had been shot in the back and chest, he said.
Juan Jimenez, a longtime friend of Anaya, said the two had been working construction jobs together in recent years. He couldn’t explain why anyone would want to hurt his friend or his family, and said Anaya often talked about how safe their neighborhood was.
“We were talking about this area and he was like, ‘It’s cool. Nobody messes with me,’” Jimenez said.
Navarro said Jennabel was looking forward to September, when she was supposed to start her first year in school. The little girl was very proud of the new backpack her mother had purchased for her big first day.
“She got a backpack and she was very happy for the backpack. And then this happens,” Navarro said, tearing up. “So she won’t be making it to school.”