Hundreds of people gathered Tuesday night in Pomona to mourn the loss of a beloved youth minister who was gunned down after leaving a birthday party.
Daniel Diaz worked as a youth pastor at his parents’ New Beginnings Community Church in Baldwin Park. He and a friend had taken three youths out to the movies Sunday night. The group had just dropped off a boy at his home near Park Avenue and Mayfair Street when the shooting occurred, friends said.
“My son was an incredible young man and he helped a lot of people,” David Diaz said.
Pomona has seen a sharp increase in homicides the last two years, reversing years of decline in a city once known for its crime rate and gang wars. There have been at least 24 homicides in Pomona this year, according to the Times Homicide Report.
Over the weekend, just hours before Diaz was gunned down, 200 people gathered for an anti-violence rally in Pomona to pray for an end to the violence.
“We’re not discouraged by this. We know things are going to happen,” said Henry B. Alexander, bishop of Shield of Faith Christian Center in Pomona. “We’re hopeful things can change.”
Diaz was among those working for that change, said New Beginnings Church congregant Lynna Moreno, 44.
Diaz’s parents founded the church and his sister works there too. Diaz worked with at-risk youth, Moreno said.
“He thought it was very important to reach out to them, those are the ones you have to reach first, to get them at a young age,” she said. “He knew how to talk to them. Youths were drawn to him. Even though they were a little rebellious, sooner or later it sunk into them.”
Boys he mentored were distraught over the killing, saying Diaz had been an inspiration.
“He was like a big brother to me,” Raymond Yiniquez said through tears. “He was always there for me every time I needed him. I’m just really going to miss him.”
Daniel’s girlfriend Denise Lugo appeared inconsolable as she stood near the spot where he was shot.
“Daniel was wonderful,” Lugo said. “I loved him very much. I’m just brokenhearted, right now. I hurt so bad.”
The Pomona Police Department urged anyone with information on the shooting to call detectives at (909) 620-2085 or to contact Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-8477.
KTLA News contributed to this report.