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Gatto family 'very cautious' about possible assault link, son says

Assemblyman Mike Gatto said his family was "very cautious" as Los Angeles police pursue a possible link between his father's killing and an assault that occurred not far from the 78-year-old's Silver Lake home.

"This is one possible theory of many," Gatto told reporters outside his father's home Tuesday night.

The assemblyman's comments came just hours after the LAPD released a sketch of a suspect in a Nov. 12 assault on Moreno Drive, which police said "may be connected" to Joseph Gatto's killing. Gatto's body was discovered the night of Nov. 13 at his home on Bright Lane, just blocks from where the assault occurred.

Coroner's officials said Gatto died of a gunshot wound to the abdomen, but officials have not revealed when they think he was killed. Law enforcement sources told The Times detectives were trying to reconstruct the days before Gatto’s body was found.

Gatto's death prompted detectives to reexamine the assault, which unfolded after a woman confronted a man breaking into a vehicle in the 2300 block of Moreno Drive. According to an LAPD flier distributed in the area Tuesday, the man pointed a handgun at the woman and "threatened to kill her," and threatened another witness before running down a set of public stairs to Tesla Avenue.

The account matched an email widely circulated among area residents after the incident, in which a woman wrote that after she chased the suspect, he turned and shouted: “Do you want to die tonight?”

Detectives returned to the scene of the assault Friday to again dust the vehicle targeted in the break-in for fingerprints. Robbery-homicide detectives have since taken over the assault investigation because of its potential connection to the homicide, officials told The Times on Tuesday.

Capt. Billy Hayes said police “want to talk” to the suspect in the assault, described on the flier as a white man in his early 20s, approximately 5-foot-9 and weighing 180 pounds. The man was wearing a multicolored, hooded sweatshirt and tan pants, and carried a tan backpack.

Hayes stressed detectives have made no definitive connection between the assault and Gatto’s killing, but said they were exploring all potential leads.

“We don’t have a definitive suspect,” Hayes said of the homicide probe. “This is the fairly early days of the investigation.”

Gatto spent decades teaching art at schools across Los Angeles, and was described as a valued mentor, a loving father and grandfather, and a fixture in the Silver Lake community he long called home. His son told reporters Tuesday his death has been "very hard."

"It was very sudden," Mike Gatto said. "We didn't get a chance to say goodbye.... He was in his late 70s, but he was going to live forever. He was so healthy.

"It was just so unexpected, and it's very hard for the grandkids," the assemblyman continued. "But we're doing our best to cope."

A public funeral Mass was scheduled for Monday morning at Our Mother of Good Counsel Catholic Church in Los Feliz.


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