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Gilbert Esparza, 35

Gilbert Esparza, a 35-year-old Latino, was shot and killed Saturday, July 9, on the bike trail along the Los Angeles River near River Drive and Southhall Lane in Bell, according to Los Angeles County coroner’s records. 

Bell police officers received a report of shots fired about 1:12 a.m., said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lt. Mike Rosson. 

Officers found Esparza unresponsive on the bike path near his bicycle, Rosson said. “We’re not sure if he was shot while riding his bike," Rosson said, or stopped and was confronted. “There were no witnesses or video on the bike path.”

The trail, which runs through a residential area, is unlit, Rosson said. 

Esparza was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead at 1:52 a.m., according to coroner’s records. 

Esparza's younger brother, Alfredo Esparza of the Delano area in Central California, said Gilbert Esparza had been living with their uncle in Bell Gardens and managing his car wash not far from where he was shot. He knew the area well, Alfredo Esparza said,  because he spent his teenage years in Huntington Park. 

Gilbert Esparza was a stocky man, about 5 feet, 5 inches tall, but was the tallest of his five siblings, Alfredo Esparza said. His nicknames were ‘Tiny” and “Pitufo” — Spanish for “Smurf.” He was the middle child, born in Central California. When he was 13, their parents separated and the family split. Gilbert Esparza went to Los Angeles with his father; his younger siblings stayed with their mother. 

Gilbert Esparza was a football fan, rooting for the Kansas City Chiefs, the hometown team where his family once lived, and UCLA Bruins.

He dreamed of becoming a race car driver, but he also had a goal to open his own car wash. He was charming, Alfredo Esparza said, and was good at selling contracts to companies for washing their vehicles.

"He was really good at what he did," Alfredo Esparza said. "He was always finding a way to make money. ... He started selling candy bars when he was in school. He had the gift of gab, and he knew how to talk to people and make them laugh. But he had his issues, and he didn't know how to deal with his stress."

He continued. “We all tried to help him, and he was trying to change his life. His goal was to get his family back. He loved his kids very much. I just feel he didn’t know how to love himself enough.”

Alfredo Esparza said he last spoke to his brother about six months ago. The two had quarreled, he said, and didn't speak after that, something that pains him now. And it makes a memory from 10 years ago more special: The three brothers got together for the first time since they were children and spent a day fishing in Marina Del Rey. 

It was cold and gray. Alfredo Esparza remembers scraping mussels off the rocks and listening to his two older brothers, who were usually at odds, joking and laughing about the things they did as kids.

“The sun was going down, and I remember thanking God for the opportunity to hear that and to be there with them,” Alfredo Esparza said. “I was very proud of Gilbert then, and I’m still proud of him. I love him very much. I don’t care about his past. I care about him.”

The Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau is investigating Gilbert Esparza’s shooting for the Bell Police Department. Anyone with information is asked to call (323) 890-5500. Those wishing to remain anonymous should call Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-8477.  

Contact the Homicide Report. Follow @latimeshomicide on Twitter.

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