LOS ANGELES (AP) — The service was in full swing at the storefront church near downtown when a parishioner spotted a woman spraying graffiti on the building. He told her to stop, and she shoved him to the ground. Two other congregants rushed to his aid.
One of them met his death when a gunman stepped out of a waiting car and opened fire, killing the 25-year-old church deacon and wounding another worshipper.
Residents in this densely packed immigrant neighborhood in central Los Angeles have long had to deal with gang-related violence and intimidation, but Sunday's killing left them stunned that the sanctity of a church had been so brazenly violated.
Residents told the Los Angeles Times that gang members recently had threatened violence against those who complained about or painted over graffiti.
"No one thinks you're going to shoot people in front of a church," a mother of four told the newspaper. "You think someone getting robbed at this store or that store. But at a church? That's so disrespectful. And just because someone said, 'Stop writing on the wall'."
She, like several other witnesses, asked that her name be withheld out of fear of reprisals.
Police are trying to counter residents' fear of retaliation as they try to track down the gunman who shot Andres Ordonez at Iglesia Principe de Paz, an evangelical church whose name in Spanish means "Prince of Peace."
The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday offered a reward of up to $50,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case. The reward may spur tips in the apparently gang-related shooting, Detective Jeff Cortina said.
"A lot of people in the community are afraid because it did involve a gang," Cortina said.
Acquaintances said Ordonez, a cook and father of a 1-year-old boy, had attended the church since he was 10.
"He was always talking about God," said a family friend, Socorro Hernandez. "It was 'good morning, good evening, and may God bless you.'"
Church handyman Martin Delgado said Ordonez was always humble and helpful.
"He was like the right hand of the pastor," Delgado said. "From work to church, there was nothing else. To me, he was an extraordinary young man."
Church members, who are mostly Central American, were "not aggressive people at all," Delgado said. "You can insult them and they won't insult back. They're very peaceful people."
Police report five homicides in the community this year.