LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The search continued today for the person who killed an off-duty Los Angeles police officer in the Lincoln Heights area of Los Angeles while family, friends, colleagues and civic leaders mourned his passing.
Officer Juan Jose Diaz, 24, was shot early Saturday outside a taco stand in the area of Avenue 26 and Artesian Street and was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.
Diaz had been with the department for two years, according the LAPD's Media Relations Section, and was last assigned to the Professional Standards Bureau.
No suspect description has been released.
More than 100 people gathered for a vigil in Diaz's memory Saturday night in front of the Los Angeles Police Department headquarters building downtown, where others continue to leave flowers, candles and other remembrances.
Among those participating were classmates who attended the Police Academy with Diaz, his two sisters, former teachers and former middle and high school classmates. Several officers at the vigil were in uniform with black mourning bands around their badges.
The vigil was held in front of a photo of a smiling Diaz with a sign that read: “Rest easy brother. We'll hold the line from here.”
Sgt. Manny Hernandez, Diaz's Police Academy sergeant in 2017, noted his pupil “was always asking questions.
“I saw him grow up and had no doubt he'd be a great police officer,” Hernandez said. “He showed up every day with a smile on his face.”
Diaz's sister, Anahi Diaz, told the crowd her brother was living his dream, noting he wanted to be a police officer since pre-school. Their mother and father “are broken,” she said.
“We need to stop this madness,” she told the crowd.
Meanwhile, Gov. Gavin Newsom joined other officials, including Mayor Eric Garcetti, in extending his condolences to the slain officer's family.
The “tragic killing of off-duty LAPD Officer Juan Diaz is a painful reminder of the gun violence that exists within our country,” Newsom said. “Jennifer and I offer our sincere condolences to Officer Diaz's parents and siblings, Chief (Michel) Moore, the entire LAPD force and our extended law enforcement family. As a state, we must do more to stop these senseless acts that continue to take lives. We owe it to 24-year-old Officer Diaz and all Californians.”
On Saturday, a civilian flagged down an LAPD motorcycle officer shortly before 1 a.m. to report a shooting in the area of Avenue 26 and Artesian Street, according to Assistant Police Chief Beatrice Girmala.
The officer called for backup officers, who responded to the scene and located two victims suffering from gunshot wounds, Girmala said. Diaz was pronounced dead at the scene and the second victim was taken to a hospital where he was expected to survive.
The Los Angeles Times, citing an unnamed law enforcement source, said Diaz was with his girlfriend and her two brothers eating at the taco stand when a group of young men approached them and began making threats prior to the shooting, with one of them showing a gun in his waistband.
“My understanding was there was some persons or person spray-painting a wall or something, committing an act of vandalism, and the officer -- I don't know what the conversation was -- walked away,” Craig Lally, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, told reporters at the scene. “There was no altercation that I know of, and then later, the officer was walking to his car and this person or persons went up and shot him.”
Police Chief Michel Moore is out of the country, with Girmala serving as acting chief in his absence. Moore has been in constant contact with the department regarding the shooting, Girmala said, and he shared the department's acknowledgement of Saturday's vigil.
“Tonight we gathered to honor a man who dedicated himself to our city -- a man whose passion was L.A.,” the department tweeted. “There were hugs & tears -- but we held our heads high as we paid tribute to his dedication to something greater than himself. Tonight, our HQ Facility is proud to have Juan front & center.”