Family Can’t Understand Why Gabriel Lopez-Gonzalez Faced Off Against Police
A Winnetka family is full of anger, sadness and plenty of unanswered questions after the shocking death of their son, who was shot and killed last week by San Fernando Police Department officers in an incident that is still under investigation.
“They (the parents ) are angry at the fact that they think it’s police cruelty to shoot so many rounds,” said Marisol Garcia, cousin of 22-year-old Gabriel Lopez-Gonzalez, who police say was carrying a gun when they shot him on Tuesday August 12 in the driveway of a home in the 800 block of south Brand Boulevard.
“If he had a small handgun, there was no need to go off like that,” said Garcia, who along with other family members and friends gathered last Friday for a vigil to remember a man who loved horses and “charreadas” and was never known to be violent nor have any prior problems with the law.
According to details released by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, they received a 9-1-1 call from a woman saying that she was being held at gunpoint inside her home by her estranged boyfriend and that he had arrived at her residence unannounced.
“When officers responded they observed a female running outside from the residence followed by a male with a handgun …He drew the handgun at the officers as they approached and that’s when the [officer involved] shooting occurred. The suspect was pronounced dead at the scene,” Lt. Dave Coleman told media outside the home after the shooting. The Sheriff’s Department said there was another woman and two small children in the house at the time of the incident.
Coleman later indicated that Lopez-Gonzalez shot and hit his girlfriend as she ran down the driveway, and police responded with gunfire.
Coleman told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol the suspect had a semi-automatic weapon and that the woman who ran from the house received a bullet wound to her back. According to Garcia, Gabriel had been dating the 18-year-old girl, but she doesn’t know if she was still his girlfriend or they had split up.
The young woman is now out of the hospital, the bullet still lodged in her back since doctors fear that if they take it out, it could do more damage, as it is close to her spinal cord, said Garcia.
Family In Shock
All of these details are in complete contrast to the Gabriel his cousin grew up with.
She described him as “always happy and full of life,” a man who grew up around horses and was known to take part in “charreadas” (Mexican style rodeos) — “that was his passion,” said Garcia.
“Every time that he knew there was going to be one in town, he would always go to it,” said Garcia, who added that Gabriel even had three horses at his parents’ home in Winnetka and loved to ride them in those events.
Gabriel was the oldest in the family (after an older brother passed away) and had a younger brother and sister.
He graduated from Northridge Academy where he played baseball and was attending Westwood College in pursuit of a business degree.
Garcia showed up to the shooting scene soon after hearing about it and the questions for her began right away.
She said she heard a neighbor commenting that he had seen Gabriel come out of the house and stop, put his hands up (still with the gun in his hands) and shoot into the air once, before getting on his knees “and that’s when the cops went berserk,” Garcia said.
The family already went to claim Gabriel’s body, which Marisol said is riddled with bullets.
“He did receive a lot of blows to his face. One of the shots hit him above his eyebrow and, I don’t know if it exploded or what, but half his cranium was blown off,” she described.
Cellphone footage of the incident taken by a passing motorist and broadcast by KNBC TV-4 showed several armed officers at the scene, at least two of them with long guns. A woman is seen by the side of a palm tree outside of the house. As the officers approached the residence, they were confronted by Gabriel, who was armed. At that point, the officer-involved shooting occurred. To this point, it is not known how many of those officers fired their weapons.
She calls this response “excessive,” given that Gabriel didn’t have any prior criminal record or run ins with the police.
“They made him seem like a real bad guy. We still don’t understand what happened on that day,” she said.
She added the family never knew Gabriel had a gun.
“To us, this was a surprise,” she said.
“Maybe the gun was at the house and he took it. He never showed us and no one knew he had a gun,” she emphasized.
Gabriel’s family also disputes the claims of the police about the supposed hostage situation.
Garcia said they have phone records showing that it was the girlfriend’s mom who called him on that day asking him to come over to the house.
“According to a neighbor he was there around 10 a.m. The woman didn’t call the police until 3:30 p.m. and he wasn’t allowed into the house until about 12 p.m. when the girl’s dad left,” she said.
In fact, Garcia said he was constantly being called by the girlfriend’s mom to go over to the house to talk to the girl.
“He would drop what he was going to come to help her,” she said, adding that this is what led to him losing his job. At the time of his death, Gabriel was working along his father in his landscaping business.
“They were dating. I don’t know if at the time they were split up, but they’ve known each other for a long time, maybe since November,” she said.
Two or three months ago, Garcia said that the girl apparently even told Gabriel that she was pregnant with his child, but later told him she had a miscarriage, but Gabriel suspected it was all a lie.
Garcia also claims that neighbors have told them the police were constantly showing up to the house where the shooting took place.
“I don’t know if there was domestic violence and when they called, the police thought it had escalated and they were ready to face something worse, I don’t know,” she said.
Those unanswered questions and plenty more are still swirling around an incident where few details have come out.
All of those questions are compounding the pain of losing their son, said Garcia about Gabriel’s parents, who are inconsolable.
Garcia said the family had the viewing on Aug. 20 at their home in Winnetka, after getting a special permit from health authorities. Gabriel will be buried today, Aug. 21.
Editor, Diana Martinez contributed to this report.