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Candles flickered through the rain at a makeshift memorial to 18-year-old Luis Suarez, slain in the street by an unknown assailant Monday night in Santa Rosa's South Park neighborhood.

"He was friendly. He was a good kid. We don't know why this would happen," said Suarez's father, Felipe Suarez, choking back grief as he held a photo of his son Tuesday.

"We just want to know who did this," said Suarez's sister, Joanne Suarez, when her father couldn't say anything more. "We just want to find them."

Luis Suarez, a student at Ridgway High School and about to celebrate his 19th birthday, was shot to death at about 9:40 p.m. Monday on Grand Avenue. He had left a friend's house and may have been walking home when a car pulled up near him.

Witnesses told police they saw a car slow, heard shots fired and then saw the car move away, said Sgt. Lisa Banayat.

Suarez, who lived three blocks from where he died, was shot multiple times, including in the torso, and was declared dead at the scene.

"He left here and he didn't come back," his father said in Spanish as he stood in his kitchen doorway.

Santa Rosa police detectives Tuesday were re-interviewing witnesses and family, trying to piece together what happened, including whether gang members were involved.

Suarez was not a known gang member but knew people who were in gangs, Banayat said.

"We don't have anybody saying they heard gang things being shouted," she said. "We don't know if it was gang related."

Suarez did not have any criminal records on file at Sonoma County Court.

Calls began coming into Santa Rosa's dispatch center at 9:38 p.m. Monday with residents reporting several shots fired. Additional callers reported a man might be dead in the neighborhood. Officers found the body near the intersection of Grand Avenue and Pressley Street.

Lighted candles, flowers and bottles of beer made up a memorial at the crime scene on Tuesday.

A photo of Suarez wearing a white T-shirt and tough-guy grimace was propped between the items.

"He was a big guy, kind of intimidating, but he was the kind of guy who tries to make you laugh," said a family friend. The man did not want his name used but said he had known Suarez for more than 10 years.

"He could pull a joke out of anything," the man said.

He said Suarez was trying to finish school and was occasionally going to church where he was part of a youth group from time to time.

But, said the friend, "he was no angel, either."

"He gets pulled back into the environment every time," the friend said. "There are more bad influences here than good and he gets corrupted by bad choices."

Neighbors described the South Park neighborhood as troubled and plagued with gang problems. The violence, though of concern, was not a surprise to many.

"You're always afraid here that something's going to go on," said a neighbor of Suarez's who asked that her name not be used. "There is a lot of gang people just running at night all the time. The cops come and they hide under cars."

The woman said gangs bring violence and other problems, like graffiti, to the neighborhood.

Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

"Taking all the blue and red out of here is the only thing that would solve it," she said, referring to two prominent Santa Rosa gangs.

School officials at Ridgway High confirmed Suarez' enrollment, but said no extra counselors were on hand for the school, which has two on staff every day.

Banayat said no suspects had been identified as of Tuesday evening but that detectives were searching for a red car that may have been involved.

It was described as a 1960s or 1970s mid-sized "candy apple red," American-made, two-door vehicle with chrome rims and large square taillights.

The Sonoma County Alliance, a business group, has offered a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest of a shooting suspect through its Take Back Our Community program.

Suarez's death is the third homicide in Sonoma County this year. In January, Robert August Guess, 46, was bludgeoned to death in his Monte Rio home. Guess' partner, Bret Arnold Matz, has been charged with his death.

Later that month, Jody Ira Reynolds, 43, was found shot dead in his Santa Rosa home. Five men have been charged with that murder.

Staff writer Randi Rossman contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Laura Norton at 521-5220 or laura.norton@


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