Diego De La Rosa Garcia, 25
Salvador Medina gladly helped his friend Alfonso Nava walk to his home in Exposition Park after a long night of drinking two weeks ago, lending him his sweater to help fight off the cold. The two were like brothers.
But early Sunday morning, Medina awoke to gunshots in his front yard and ran outside to find Nava on the sidewalk, choking on his own blood, and another friend bleeding to death nearby.
“There was blood everywhere, on the steps and everything,” said Medina, a 20-year-old Exposition Park resident. “I looked and saw my friend just twitching. I felt his heart, I hugged him, and he was gone. He was holding my arm, and I just felt him let go. My shorts, my stomach, my arm, they were all covered in blood.”
He had desperately tried to save his friend’s life. Following a 911 dispatcher’s instructions before the first paramedics arrived, he had cut off Nava's shirt and pumped on his stomach. Days later, as he talked about that night, Medina pulled out the tiny silver scissors from his jeans pocket. He has been carrying them since Sunday morning.
Alfonso “Junior” Nava, a 26-year-old Latino, and Diego Garcia, a 25-year-old Latino, were killed early Sunday morning, Feb. 13 outside Medina’s home in the 1800 block of Leighton Avenue in Exposition Park.
“We suspect that it is gang-related,” said Det. David Garrido, with the LAPD Southwest Division homicide unit.
A third victim, Alfonso Richards, was shot in the chest and arm and taken to California Hospital Medical Center in critical condition. Richards was released Wednesday, according to Det. Linda Heitzman, an investigator on the Nava-Garcia case.
The suspects -- described as two African American men in their mid 20s -- walked up to the men, who had just returned from a party, shortly after 1 a.m.
Nava was shot in the head as he was talking to his girlfriend on his cellphone, neighbors said. The bullet passed through the phone. He died at the scene, according to the Los Angeles County coroner’s office.
With Nava bleeding on the sidewalk, witnesses said the gunmen chased Garcia up the front steps of the one-story house, shooting him in the chest. Garcia collapsed in the rosebushes and Medina said he heard the assailants shoot Garcia again. Garcia later died at a hospital, according to the coroner’s office.
The gunmen ran away, witnesses said.
As the sun set Tuesday evening, a group of friends gathered at Medina’s home, mournfully staring at candles that lined the sidewalk. Some had placed bottles of Corona at the memorial; others had placed cigarettes, magazines, a bottle of Patron and photographs of the victims. Beside the rosebush where Garcia collapsed, a much smaller cluster of candles burned – not too many, Medina said, because they didn’t want the bushes to catch fire.
Many in the group questioned whether there was any connection between the shootings on Leighton Avenue and a quadruple homicide two days earlier.
Medina said Nava, Garcia and other close friends knew the victims in that case, three brothers -- Luis Jimenez, 26, Angel Jimenez, 25, and Anthony Jimenez, 24 -- and their cousin Martin Haro, 25. The four were fatally wounded while standing in the backyard of a Willowbrook home Sunday afternoon.
Ray Lugo -- the investigator in charge of the Jimenez-Haro case for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department -- said he compared notes on the cases with the LAPD Gang Homicide Division investigator and is “really confident” they are not related. None of the homicide investigators provided further comment on the ongoing investigations.
Medina said the Jimenez family and his friends used to hang out together in his father’s repair shop, where Medina, Nava, Garcia and their group of friends often spent time.
In recounting their friendship, Medina repeatedly referred to Nava as “Fat Boy,” an intimate nickname reserved for only a select few friends. To everyone else, he was simply “Junior.”
The pair often worked together -- everything from sweeping the floor in the repair shop to fixing their cars while listening to music.
Medina said he sensed trouble about a month ago when he saw an unfamiliar vehicle slowly roll down the street in front of his house. Suspecting the occupants to be gang members, he called the Police Department and requested that an officer investigate. He was told that cruising alone was not cause enough to dispatch a police officer.
One month later, he angrily asked: “Does somebody have to die for a cop to show up?”
Medina said he believes the authorities were callous in their response to the shootings outside his house. He said that it took emergency responders more than 20 minutes to respond to the 1 a.m. shooting. And although the police left the scene around 3 a.m., Medina said Nava’s body was left on the sidewalk until 9 a.m., when coroner’s officials showed up.
”Normally, when the victim expires on the scene, there is a rather lengthy process that goes on and the body can’t be moved,” Heitzman said, when asked about Medina’s account. “In this particular case, we didn’t leave the victim laying out to look at. He was covered.”
Coroner’s officials did not say when Nava’s body was picked up. They explained that typically their office gets a preliminary call from police notifying them of a homicide and then another call when the body is ready to be retrieved.
Nava lived just two blocks from where he was killed in a home where his friend Garcia also had stayed for about five years. On Tuesday night, the house was packed with siblings, in-laws, cousins and children. While a soft glow of light stretched from the door frame out into night, the rest of the neighborhood was largely dark and empty.
Garcia had lived with the family for the last five years, but was private about his family and personal history, except to say that he was from Mexico.
“My mom considered him to be a son,” said Paula Solis, 24, one of Nava’s sisters. “He was always working, never used drugs or drank [alcohol]. He didn’t even drink soda.”
Eustolia Jimenez, 19, Nava’s youngest sister, said her brother phoned home 30 minutes before his death to ask if she or their mother were hungry.
“He was always happy,” Jimenez said. “He was very social, and had friends of all types, ages and races.”
Nava was a tattoo artist and used “everyone as his canvas,” said brother-in-law Manuel Balderas, 30. Jimenez agreed, saying that “he loved expressing himself in art.”
This was the first homicide in Exposition Park in nearly six months; the last reported killing was on Sept. 28.
The LAPD’s Garrido said the last year has been relatively quiet in the Southwest Division.
“We haven’t had any gang feuds that have evolved into a war between rival gangs.” Garrido said. He said it remained to be seen whether the double homicide would reignite gang tensions in the area.
Residents said the scene of the crime is in Rolling 30s territory, a Harlem Crips-affiliated group, with the 18th Street gang controlling a nearby corridor. Medina said that members of the Rolling 30s stopped by his house the morning after the killings to say they were not involved.
Although police described the killings as gang-related, Jimenez’s little sister said that her brother was not a gang member. She is not the only one to say so; many gathered in Medina’s front yard to pay their respects also said Nava was not in a gang.
For Medina, who said he was the one who’d been in trouble when they were younger, there was a deep sense of injustice.
“I thought I was gonna be the first one to go,” Medina said. “They got the wrong guy. They always get the fools who don’t do " stuff.
-- Benjamin Gottlieb and Mary Slosson USC’s Neon Tommy/Annenberg Digital News
Editors' note: The Times and Annenberg Digital News at USC's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism are continuing a collaboration on the Homicide Report. Our hope is that this will provide readers with more frequent dispatches from the field, as well as give student journalists valuable crime-reporting experience. — Megan Garvey / Los Angeles Times and Alan Mittelstaedt / Annenberg Digital News.
Top photo: The Nava/Garcia memorial outside Salvador Medina's house -- the scene of the crime -- in Exposition Park. A caricature drawn by graffiti artist "Fiber" next to a half-empty bottle of Patron, flowers, candles and other mementos. Credit: Mary Slosson
Bottom photo: Salvador Medina, Roberto Nava and Manuel Balderas with friends at the Nava/Garcia memorial. Credit: Mary Slosson