SYLMAR (CBSLA.com) — Loved ones gathered Monday for a growing memorial for Francisco Garcia, a 21-year-old Army veteran who had recently returned from his final tour in Afghanistan.
Detectives are looking for the suspects who gunned down the veteran early Sunday as he was leaving a homecoming party in Sylmar. They suspect Garcia was caught in a feud between two rival tagging groups and that he may have been a member.
Garcia was attending a homecoming party Saturday night thrown by his girlfriend at a home on Dronfield Street. At around 2 a.m., Garcia and his friends left to walk to another house down the street, the LAPD said.
The 21-year-old was standing on the sidewalk, north of Astoria Street, when two vehicles stopped near Sylmar High School.
A Hispanic man reportedly exited a dark SUV and proceeded to smash a beer bottle on the ground while yelling at Garcia across the street.
He then walked to the second vehicle, described as a white Toyota or Honda, retrieved a handgun from a second suspect and started shooting at Garcia.
Authorities said Garcia was shot and died at the scene. No other injuries were reported.
“It appears Francisco was the target of the attack,” said Lt. Paul Vernon, commanding officer of the Mission Detective Division. “Apparently, a simmering dispute had boiled over during the night, and this suspect came looking for Francisco. Figuring out the dispute should lead us to the shooter.”
Friends said Garcia had recently applied to the California Highway Patrol academy, a longtime dream of entering law enforcement.
“When you have him back home, you’re relieved ‘cause he’s here. You feel like you can protect him here, but we couldn’t,” Garcia’s sister Jennifer said. “We’re really heartbroken but we’re trying to move forward.”
A vigil was held Sunday night at Sylmar High.
“He would go abroad and serve our country and then come back to die on our streets,” Army veteran Lonny Potter said. “It’s gut wrenching.”
Loved ones continued Monday to visit a makeshift memorial outside the school.
Jennifer Garcia said through tears, “For something so stupid, to end up like this – it never should happen.”
The victim’s girlfriend, Valerie Garcia, said they talked about having a family.
She said, “He was in harm’s way protecting us and then here, where he should be welcomed back like a hero…It’s just so heartbreaking, because we all wanted him to succeed in life.”
To help Garcia’s family with funeral expenses, click here.
Anyone with information in the shooting should call the LAPD at (818) 838-9948.