By Hector Becerra and Jessica Garrison, Los Angeles Times –
LOS ANGELES — The congregation was singing and praying Sunday evening inside Principe de Paz, a weathered storefront church on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles, when a parishioner checking on the food being set up in the back parking lot came across something suspicious.
He saw a young woman spraying graffiti on a side of the church. He asked her to stop, but she knocked him to the ground. Just then, Andres Ordonez and another church member rushed outside to help.
As they arrived, a man emerged from a car parked next to the church and opened fire, killing Ordonez and wounded the other parishioner.
Hearing the gunshots, churchgoers poured out into the street, kneeling next to the victims and praying in Spanish, witnesses said.
“For God’s sake, if people going to church aren’t protected, then who is?” asked a nearby business owner, who bolted out of his store when he heard the gunfire and saw the dead man lying on the asphalt, surrounded by loudly grieving parishioners.
The shooting left the neighborhood angry and afraid. They said gangs have long been a problem in the area but that recently gang members threatening violence against residents who complain about or painted over graffiti.
The violence struck an evangelical church made up largely of Guatemalan and Central American immigrants who live in the dense row of apartments in the Westlake District. The church operated out of an old market, its windows gated and walls dotted with coats of paint covering graffiti.
LAPD detectives are searching for the gunman and tagger but believe some witnesses are afraid to come forward out of concern about gang reprisals. Several witnesses talked to the Los Angeles Times only on the condition of anonymity, fearing for their safety.
“They were going to church. They didn’t do anything to deserve what happened,” LAPD Homicide Detective Jeff Cortina said. “We need the public’s assistance. This wasn’t gangster-on-gangster. It could be anybody. It could be anybody’s kids.”
Ordonez, 25, was a cook and father of a 1-year-old boy who was a church regular. One friend said Ordonez had been going to the church since age 10.
“If you needed help, he would help you,” said the church’s handyman, Martin Delgado. He described Ordonez as humble, hard-working and accommodating.
“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.”
Socorro Hernandez, 40, came to the church Monday evening, still in a state of disbelief that Ordonez was dead.
Hernandez knew the Ordonez family for years and said they were humble and religious. Ordonez’s father got up at 3 in the morning to collect cans around the neighborhood to support his family, she said.
The younger Ordonez, she added, wouldn’t walk by without offering a blessing.
“He was always talking about God. It was good morning, good evening and may God bless you,” she said, stifling tears.
Delgado added that the Ordonez and the other church members were “not aggressive people at all. You can insult them and they won’t insult back. They’re very peaceful people.”
Amalia Corado, 70, said the church was filled with the sounds of song and prayer at the time of the violence and that she didn’t actually hear gunshots. But she saw the commotion and raced outside, praying over Ordonez’s mortally wounded body.