Police were searching for a gunman Sunday after a dispute ended with an Army veteran being shot and killed at a homecoming party thrown for the young man at his girlfriend’s Sylmar home, according to police officials. The incident occurred two days before Veterans Day.
The man was identified by police as 22-year-old Francisco Garcia. The coroner's officer later stated he was 21.
Friends of Garcia's said he had returned home from Afghanistan about two weeks ago, and Garcia had stated on Facebook last Tuesday that his application to join the California Highway Patrol Academy had been accepted.
“The ironies are obvious,” Los Angeles Police Department Lt. Paul Vernon said. “To survive as a soldier in an overseas conflict, only to be killed in your old neighborhood upon your return.”
Garcia’s “proud and happy girlfriend” hosted the homecoming party Saturday night when shortly after 2 a.m. Sunday partygoers decided to move outside, according to a LAPD news release.
The group was located in the 13200 block of Dronfield Avenue (map) when the incident occurred, according to the coroner's office.
As Garcia stood on the sidewalk, a Hispanic man exited a dark SUV, smashed a beer bottle on the ground and yelled at the veteran from across the street, the news release stated.
The man then retrieved a handgun from an occupant of a white Toyota or Honda, located behind the SUV, and shot Garcia. He died at the scene.
“It appears Francisco was the target of the attack,” Vernon said. “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.”
Investigators did not believe the occupants of the white car or SUV had attended the party.
Garcia was remembered Sunday night by dozens of mourners who gathered for a vigil at the scene of the shooting.
They stood near a makeshift memorial comprised of flowers, an American flag, and candles that were arranged in the shape of a heart and the nickname "Franky."
"Any man that puts on the uniform of the United States armed forces, in my book, is a hero," said a man who attended the vigil. "That he would go abroad to serve our country, then come back to die on our streets, is really just … gut-wrenching. No veteran should have to ever face that."
Anyone with information was asked to call Detective Efren Gutierrez with LAPD’s Mission Homicide Unit at 818- 838-9948. Anonymous tips could be called into Crimestoppers at 800-222-8477, or by texting 274637. All text messages should begin with the letters “LAPD.” Online tips could be placed at www.LAPDOnline.org, click on “webtips” and follow the prompts.
KTLA's John A. Moreno contributed to this report.