Thirty-one-year-old Gonzalo Garcia Perez was murdered two days before Christmas during an attempted robbery at the 7-Eleven convenience store in Highland Park where he worked as a clerk.
The tragedy of his violent and untimely death has been further complicated by what seems to be confusion over whether his parents can obtain a visa to travel to the United Stated to attend their only child’s funeral service.
According to his family, Garcia Perez had not seen his parents for 14 years because his work permit did not allow him to travel out of the country. They say his parents have never met his 5-year-old daughter Melanie. Attending the funeral would be their last chance to see their son, and to say a final goodbye.
Garcia Perez, referred to as Gonzalo Garcia in some news reports, came to the U.S. at the age of 18 and had only been working at the 7-Eleven store for about one year when he was shot and killed, according to his cousin Elizabeth Duenas. His family says the money he earned helped support his daughter who lives in Los Angeles with her mother and his parents who live in Mexico.
On Wednesday, the Los Angeles District Attorney announced it has arrested and charged Rasheem Childs, 19, of Compton with Garcia Perez’s murder and a series of other armed robberies during December and January.
Earlier in the day, CBS/KCAL 9 reported Chimes, on probation for two prior convictions, may have been out of prison due to California’s controversial AB 109 prison realignment program, a 2011 state initiative intended to relieve overcrowding in state prisons.
According to CBS, the other string of armed robberies included stores in Lincoln Heights and Boyle Heights.
At the time of his murder, Garcia Perez was living with family in Los Angeles, including Duenas who has now taken on the sad task of making funeral arrangements and raising the money to bring Garcia Perez’s parents to L.A. for his funeral.
But money is not the only issue, according to Duenas. She told EGP that getting a definite answer as to what it will take to get the parents an emergency visa to enter the U.S. has been both confusing and frustrating.
She says she first contacted Councilman Gil Cedillo to obtain guidance.
Cedillo’s Communications Director Freddy Ceja told EGP they “connected the family with the Mexican Consulate and [Congressman] Xavier Becerra’s office” so they could get help to quickly process the visas. Cedillo and Becerra’s offices agreed to write letters of support of the issuing of the visas, Ceja added.
However, according to Duenas, the Mexican Consulate Office in Los Angeles was not at all helpful.
“I went to the Mexican Consulate on 6th street and they said they couldn’t guarantee that a visa will be given to his parents,” Duenas said. Instead, she says, they referred her to an onsite immigration attorney.
“A young man approached, he said he was the immigration attorney’s assistant and he offered to help me sue 7-Eleven,” she said disapprovingly. She added the Mexican Consulate also told her that because 7-Eleven is paying for Garcia Perez’s funeral arrangements, there was nothing more they could do to help.
Not looking for money or help suing 7-Eleven, Duenas says she left without getting any assistance. Duenas says the 7-Eleven corporation and Highland Park franchise owner have been “very good to the family” and she has no interest in suing them.
The family has opened a fundraising account on youcaring.com and has raised most of the $10.000 they need to pay for Garcia Perez’s parents’ trip to Los Angeles. 7-Eleven has also contributed to that account, she said.
According to Duenas, what they really needed was help quickly processing the visas so her cousin’s parents could attend his funeral scheduled for Jan. 25.
Despite assistance from elected officials, on Tuesday Duenas said she continues to get conflicting advice. Some sources told her the parents have to go to the U.S. Embassy closest to their home and present their son’s death certificate, but that the process could take weeks and still might not be approved. Others said the parents should travel to the US-Mexico border in Tijuana, Mexico and present their request for humanitarian visas to border officials there, and they might be allowed to walk across the border: Or their request could be denied.
Sergio Juarez, Communications Consul for the Mexican Consulate in L.A., told EGP Tuesday they want to work with Ms. Duenas and her family. He says they tried to contact her by phone, but she has not responded.
“We can help to get the humanitarian visa,” Juarez said. “They just need their Mexican passport and the official letter on letterhead from the funerary with specific information.”
Juarez said there are some specific cases when visas can be approved in a short time frame—but only for immediate family members, parents or children—such as for “by hospitalization” or “by funeral.”
“Apparently there’s some miscommunication,” said Duenas when told by EGP that the Mexican Consulate is offering to help her process the humanitarian visa requests.
Duenas’ said her biggest fear is that if the parents apply for the visa in Guadalajara, Mexico and are denied, they will run out of time and options.
That’s why, she said, they had already decided to go with their second option: “We sent money to the parents to come to Tijuana and once they are there we will show immigration officers the death certificate and other proofs to see if they let them into the country,” Duenas said.
“The office of [Rep.] Xavier Becerra said they are willing to send an email the same day to support the case,” she added.
How her plan will play out remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, 7-Eleven employees say they are saddened by the murder which has also left them concerned for their safety.
According to the LAPD, Childs and another suspect “entered the location posing as customers. The victim walked to the register to assist the suspects.” That’s when police say Childs produced a handgun and demanded money from the cash register,
As Garcia Perez tried to run away, the suspect “fired one round striking the victim.” The suspects fled the location without taking any money with them, according to Det. Zesati of the Northeast Division.
“Another employee found him lying on the floor and called the police,” Zesati told EGP.
The clerk was seriously wounded and transported to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.
“It’s sad because you never think about it…things that happen,” Gustavo Ayoltzi, manager of the Highland Park 7-Eleven told EGP
“We are a little bit scared… we know what people can do.” Now, “if somebody steals something, we just let them go because we are scared,” Ayoltzi said.
7-Eleven Public Relations spokesperson Margaret Chabris on Tuesday told EGP by email that the company is “shocked and deeply saddened over the random shooting…”
“7-Eleven and its franchisee for the Highland Park store are doing everything we can to work closely with police during the investigation…”
Childs is scheduled to be arraigned Jan. 21 on one count of special circumstances murder during a robbery, 11 counts of second degree robbery and one count each of attempted second degree robbery, assault with a deadly weapon and false imprisonment by violence.
He is being held without bail because according to the district attorney’s announcement, this is a potential death penalty case.
As of press time Wednesday, it was still unclear whether Garcia Perez’s parents’ humanitarian visas would be approved in time for them to attend his funeral scheduled for Jan. 25, at the East Olympic Funeral Home.
Twitter: @jackieguzman