Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Raul Lopez's Murder: $50,000.00 Reward Announced

From left to right, Lucio Garcia (cousin), Detective James Nuttall (facing family) Guadalupe Gomez (Raul Lopez's wife, holding Ziara 2) Violet 3 in front of her, Melesio Lopez 16, with his arms around his brother Eric 7, Celeste 6.  Unidentified family friend standing behind Guadalupe.

UPDATE August 1st, 2012:
To make a donation to the Bank of America (BofA) account, you must walk into a branch office (like I did) and speak to a customer service representative or teller.  If you are a BofA customer, unfortunately, you cannot make the donation online, since BofA's online banking requires a zip code for the receiving funds account to make the transfer. Sprocket

UPDATE July 26th, 2012:
I was finally able to get a short video I shot of the family before my camera died.  The sound is terrible and it's all in Spanish. Sprocket.

I apologize for the delay in getting this story up.  Right after the press conference, Mr. Sprocket needed my help on one of his projects and I was working in a basement mechanical room until late into the evening. All day yesterday and today, I have been haunted by the images of the Lopez family.  I could not get the faces of Guadalupe, Lucio, Melesio and her young children out of my mind.  The family looked so sad. Sprocket.

July 24th, 2012: Raul Lopez Murder Press Conference
I made a point to arrive at the press conference early, and I believe I was the second journalist there. As I was walking towards the restaurant, a woman stepped out of the Pink Cheeks salon and asked me what was going on.  I told her about the press conference and the announcement about the reward.  She told me that she and her coworkers often ordered food from the restaurant.  She said she knew the cook but not personally.  She also told me that she thought it was "too soon" for the "Help Wanted" sign in the restaurant window.

When I got up to the restaurant, there was a large help wanted sign in the front window.  The press conference was held to announce that there is a $50,000.00 reward for information into the shooting death of Raul Lopez, who was shot while working at Hoagies & Wings.  The media would also receive an updated, longer piece of security camera video from the Panda Express, just a few doors west and across the street.  I brought my old Fuji Fine Pix 7000, hoping to film the press conference.  The first person I recognized walking up the street from where they parked was supervising detective Rob Bub (head cowboy).  Next was Detective Pete Barba, and last Detective James Nuttall (three of the four cowboys).  Several media stations showed up to film the event, each one trying to get the best spot for filming.

Not long after Detective Nuttall arrived, Raul Lopez's family walked up the sidewalk.  Guadalupe Gomez is a tiny woman.  She was surrounded by her five children, (Melesio, Eric, Celeste, Violet, Ziara) a nephew Lucio Garcia, and an unidentified older family friend.  One reporter rushed up to her before she had even reached the restaurant, knelt down and started asking her questions in Spanish.  I knew that I would be at a disadvantage because I don't speak the language. After Guadalupe spoke, Lopez's oldest son, Melesio, picked up one of the younger girls, held her up to the reporter's microphone and she said a few words in a tiny voice.

The other media outlets are still getting their cameras set up while we wait for Councilman Tom LaBonge to arrive. Once LaBonge arrived with his support staff, the press conference got underway.  Wouldn't you know it, I had hoped to film the event but my nine-year-old camera chose this moment to fail.  There were squiggly lines all over the screen.  Even changing the memory card did nothing to correct the problem.

I pulled out my notepad and tried to take notes.  Before he spoke, Councilman LaBonge first made a point to introduce Lopez's family and children.  He made sure they spoke to the media before he spoke.  After speaking in Spanish, at the end Guadalupe said in English, Please help."  Melesio addressed the crowd: "All we want is justice." Then Councilman LaBonge spoke. Some of his statements were directed to the Lopez family. "We all feel for your family and this tragedy.... that your daddy is not here. (snip)  We need the community's help."  The five African Americans "....ordered food... an argument (emerged?) and tragedy ensued. (snip) Just like the country mourns the tragedy in Colorado, this city mourns your father, (Raul Lopez).  (snip) He should be here today."  He then thanked the Van Nuys Homicide detectives for their hard work.

Detective Nuttall then spoke to the media about what they know happened inside and outside the restaurant on Friday June 29th.  "It's going to take a phone call. (snip) He was just doing a hard days work."  Nuttall went on to explain that they have not exhausted all their leads at this point.  They are waiting on some information from an "outside agency," but Nuttall would not name the agency when asked. "....but at this point, (we? feel?) it's in (the) LAPD's and the family's best interest to pursue this angle (the reward)."

The cameras in the restaurant were working, but were not recording the night of the murder.  Through, accident, happenstance, the camera equipment was in an out of the way area of the restaurant.  Several boxes happened to get pushed up against the recording equipment and it's believed these boxes some how must have pushed a button to stop the cameras from recording. Nuttall said, “We have cameras that picked up the vehicle.”  It’s a black Cadillac Escalade, a newer model with 26” chrome wheels. The vehicle is first seen traveling east on Ventura Blvd.  It makes a U-turn and parks in front of the Panda Express across the street on the corner.  It’s just past 10:30 PM when two of the five individuals enter the Panda Express and find out the restaurant is closed.  Then then walk across the street to Hoagies & Wings.

Nuttall continues, "A chair is thrown over the counter at Lopez. (snip) He used that chair to escort them out of the restaurant. (snip) Lopes was shot in the upper torso, by a medium caliber bullet. (snip) We've got some good descriptions, but without a license plate..."

It's believed the group may be local.  The five individuals did not run from the scene but walked towards their vehicle at a fast pace.  Detective Nuttall stressed that anyone coming forward did not need to leave their names.  The detectives would welcome any tips that were left anonymously.

While Detective Nuttall spoke, Guadalupe Gomez, Raul's wife and an older, unidentified friend peered inside the glass door of the restaurant. 

I waited patiently while several reporters stuck microphones into Guadalupe, Melesio and some of the younger children's faces and asked them questions.  "Melesio told reporters that no one is taking care of the family.  His cousin Lucio is helping out but he doesn't live with them.  He verified that his mother doesn't work and that some of the children go to school.  His youngest sister stays at home.  "We're really sad.  We're just sad," Melesio told the press.  "I've known him for sixteen years. (snip) They (his siblings) are not going to be able to know their father. (snip) Maybe people (out there?) know something."

When I finally got my turn to speak to Raul's oldest son, I wanted to know more about their father and the type of person he was.

In a soft voice, Melesio said, "He was a nice person.  He loved all of us. He enjoyed being with the family."  Melesio stated his father had worked at Hoagies & Wings for one year.  He also worked a second job two days a week at a restaurant in Tarzana, The Town. Prior to these jobs, he worked at Vitello's as a waiter.   Melesio said his father was responsible and hard working. He had been working the second job for a few months.  One of the things Raul enjoyed was singing.  Raul was the sole breadwinner for the family.  I said to Melesio, "I'm so sorry for your family's loss."

I then waited for an opportunity to speak to Guadalupe when Melesio could translate. Guadalupe said she and Raul were married seventeen years. "He was a good father, responsible, hard working.  He loved us."  He was responsible for them.  "He worked for us. (snip) He was a nice person. He loved us.  He had patience. (snip) He respected everyone."  I made a point to tell Guadalupe and Melesio that I know these detectives.  They will work very hard to solve this murder.

Murder is not very common in the Sherman Oaks community.  I only found news about four murders in the last six years.  One of those was a murder-suicide in 2011, and another was a park beating in February 2012.  The detectives told me they couldn't remember ever being called out to a location on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks.  It's an active, main street of the entire San Fernando Valley.

During the entire press conference, it was hard for me to look at the sad faces of Guadalupe, his son Melesio and Lucio.  Through much of the press conference, tiny Guadalupe held her youngest child in her arms.  All I could think about was how was this family going to survive?

 Celeste, Eric and Violet Lopez with a family photo. 
Photo Credit: Daily News (Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer)

Without a provider, this family needs your help.  Hoagies & Wings CEO Akida Mashaka, issued a press release that a donation fund has been set up for the family.  Checks can be mailed or dropped of to:

Hoagies & Wings
Attn: Guadalupe Gomez
14552 Ventura Blvd.
Sherman Oaks, CA 91403

In addition, an account has been set up at Bank of America to receive donations to the family.

Bank of America Account #164107764046
Guadalupe Gomez

Please T&T readers, consider opening your heart and wallet, even if it's a small amount to help this family.

DR#: 1209-13708

LOCATION: "Hoagies & Wings Restaurant"
14552 Ventura Boulevard, Sherman Oaks, CA

DATE: Friday, June 29th, 2012, at approximately 2300 hours.

SUSPECT: Male black, black hair, brown eyes, 5'10" to 6'00", 185 pounds and approximately 28 to 35 years old.  Suspect was wearing a black and yellow Ralph Lauren polo shirt, blue jeans, gold chain and tennis shoes.

WEAPON: Semi-automatic hand gun.

VEHICLE: Cadillac Escalade, 2005-12, Mode, Black (NFI)

MO: Both Suspect and Victim engaged in a verbal dispute.  The victim grabbed a chair, approached the suspect, and caused the suspect to exit the location.  The suspect then produced a hand gun, fired one round which struck the victim in the torso, killing him.

If you have any information regarding the suspect, please contact Van Nuys Detectives at (818)374-0040 or you may also call 1-877-LAPD-24-7.  Anyone wishing to remain anonymous can call Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (800-22-8477).  Tipsters may also contact Crime stoppers by texting to phone number 274637 (C-R-I-M-E-S on most keypads) with a cell phone.  All text messages should begin with the letters "LAPD."  Tipsters may also go to click on "webtips" and follow the prompts.

When Councilman LaBonge was walking up the street with his aides for the press conference, he saw a discarded ice cream cup on the sidewalk.  He picked it up, put it in a trash can and then made a call.  Right after the press conference was over and everyone had packed up, an orange painted city maintenance truck pulls us with a magnetic sign attached to the side door that said Councilman Tom LaBonge.  The maintenance worker started sweeping all the discarded trash off the sidewalk.

Daily News Report
CBS June 30th Story
LA Times, LA Now Blog


Anonymous said...

god bless this poor family. I hope the perpetrator is caught soon.

Anonymous said...

The cameras in the restaurant didn't record and nobody was able to get the license plate numbers. With those, the suspects would have been quickly identified.

Assuming the suspects are local, since they flash wads of cash around, someone may know who they are. The police may soon have their names.

David In TN

Sandy said...

Intending these brutal people are found and dealt with appropriately and that many of the local and your readers are donating something to the fund for this family that never deserved such a sad situation.

Anonymous said...

I caught a heartwrenching clip on the evening news earlier this week with his poor wife holding the baby. The sad little girl kept putting her pudgy little hand over her mother's mouth as though she didn't want to hear her tell people her daddy was gone. Too tragic. Hope all Betsy's readers will take a check to their local B of A. I did. BJ in SV