Months after a 57-year-old man was fatally shot in the back of the head inside a public restroom, Long Beach police released a composite sketch Wednesday in the search for the killer.
The slaying earlier this summer set off protests by family members and others alleging Fred Taft was targeted because he was black, describing the brutal homicide as a hate crime.
But police have said the motive is was still under investigation and claims it was racially motivated are so far not substantiated.
The suspect accused of killing Taft is described by police as a white man in his 50s who stands about 6 feet tall, has a medium build and was possibly wearing a dark shirt, light shorts and a hat at the time of the crime.
A sketch of him has been released alongside the offer of a $30,000 reward as detectives continue trying to track down leads. The reward is an extension of an earlier offer that includes $10,000 from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and $20,000 from the Long Beach City Council.
On July 21, Taft was celebrating a family reunion at Pan American Park in Long Beach when he went to use a restroom there and was shot in the back of the head just before 4:30 p.m., police and relatives have said. The shooter fled the scene.
Several weeks later, on Sept. 4, Taft’s daughter told reporters her father had been “brutally shot in the back of his head while urinating.”
“I love my father more than life itself, and I miss him dearly every day. So does the rest of our family, and his two grandchildren who ask for papa every day,” Corie Taft said, speaking through tears.
Police have urged witnesses or anyone with information to come forward, saying there were many people in the park that day who may have seen something. Taft’s nephew told the Los Angeles Times there were between 40 and 50 people at the family reunion.
No suspected motive has been released by police but the victim’s family members have alleged there was graffiti at the park around the time of the killing expressing racism against the black community.
They have said the fatal shooting appears to be an act of hate targeting an innocent man because of his race.
“He literally was here celebrating life with his family, went in to use the restroom and some man — that is actually right now defined as a white male — shot him in the back of the head and then ran off,” Taft’s niece, Dr. Medell Briggs-Malonson, told KTLA days after the killing.
The sketch just released by police is the most information released about the suspect so far, with only scant details about his physical appearance revealed before.
Despite the lack of a motive, officials have said the killing does appear to be an isolated incident. Increased police patrols around the area of the park are still underway as the investigation continues, authorities said.
“Solving this murder and ensuring public safety is of paramount importance to the police department,” a statement from police reads. “As with all investigations, the police department will continue to evaluate and assess other crimes that could be related to this murder.”
Anyone with information is strongly urged to contact Detectives Michael Hubbard and Adrian Garcia at 562-570-7244. Anonymous tips can be forwarded by dialing 800-222-8477 or visiting http://www.lacrimestoppers.org.