LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com/AP) — Authorities have released a sketch of a man they suspect killed Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s father at his Silver Lake home last Tuesday.
Joseph Gatto’s daughter found his body Wednesday in the 2800 block of Bright Lane. He had been shot in the abdomen.
A witness told police she saw the suspect break into the victim’s vehicle on the 2300 block of Moreno Drive at approximately 6:50 p.m.
When the woman confronted the suspect, he pointed a gun at her and threatened to take her life. Another person also approached the suspect, who repeated the threat.
The suspect then fled on foot down public stairs on Tesla Avenue. Officials say he made off with cash seized from the car.
Detectives say the car break-in may have happened around the same time as the shooting and are considering the suspected car thief in their Gatto investigation.
The suspect was described as white and between 20 and 25 years old. He appeared to be 5-foot-9-inches and 180 pounds. The suspect was wearing a multi-colored, camouflage-type hooded sweatshirt and carrying a tan drawstring backpack.
Officers have been handing out flyers with the sketch and suspect info to people walking around Silver Lake. They’re asking anyone with information concerning this case to contact Detectives Barry Telis and Chris Gable at (213) 486-6890. Anonymous tips can be given by calling (800) 222-TIPS(8477).
Meanwhile, many are mourning the man who was not only a military veteran but a fixture in the L.A. arts community for more than 40 years.
When Kent Twitchell got the call to redesign downtown’s Bob Hope Patriotic Hall with a larger-than-life mural honoring veterans, he knew he had to include Gatto, a longtime friend and fellow artist, in the painting that he named “Free Assembly.” He was someone whose legacy the acclaimed muralist figured deserved to be preserved on the side of one of the city’s buildings for perhaps that many more years to come.
The mural was dedicated on Nov. 8, showing the 78-year-old Gatto standing out among several other veterans as he sits on a bench in a dark leather jacket.
Just five days after that unveiling, Gatto would be found shot to death in his ransacked home in a normally quiet upscale neighborhood just a few miles from Patriotic Hall. Police say they are looking into several potential leads as they seek the killer. They say Gatto was shot once in the abdomen.
“I still can’t believe it,” Twitchell, his voice filled with emotion, told The Associated Press on Friday evening. “I go from trying to move on, to thinking about other things, to it all coming back to me again.”
When reached by phone, he was adding pictures of Gatto to his Facebook page so that fellow artists, some of whom were just hearing of what happened, could see them, Twitchell said. He had recently replaced his cover photo with a pencil drawing he’d done of his friend in 1996.
Gatto, he said, was a giant of Los Angeles’ arts world who influenced thousands over the years as a teacher and as founding director of the visual arts program at Los Angeles High School For The Arts.
“As he would say, he was one of the old dinosaurs who still believe that you’ve got to be able to draw to be an artist,” Twitchell said with a laugh.
“He was also a consummate teacher. He was hard and tough and yet his students responded to that. A lot of times if you’re hard today they quit or they call the police on you. But not with him because they knew he really cared about them.”
Others in Los Angeles’ arts community who expressed shock and grief at Gatto’s slaying was Joey Krebs, who signs his work The Phantom Street Artist. Krebs said he couldn’t help but be baffled by the irony that his friend died less than a week after a mural that will celebrate his legacy for decades was unveiled.
Gatto, who was also known as an expert jewelry craftsman, said he made a decision as a young man to concentrate on teaching first.
“I read someplace that only 2 percent of the population of artists make a living selling their art,” he told Modern Silver magazine last year. “I did not think I could pay my way through college or later earning a living as an artist, so I would have to make a choice. I made a decision, then and there, that I would be the best teacher that I could possibly be.”
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