EL MONTE >> Homicide detectives and distraught family members sought the public’s help Thursday in finding the masked gunman who fatally shot a 25-year-old El Monte man during a failed robbery at the fast food restaurant where he worked.
Juan Manuel Vidal turned 25 less than two weeks before the deadly Oct. 21 shooting at Jack in the Box, 9220 Flair Drive.
He had just graduated pharmacy school and was looking forward to starting a new career and a new life with his fiancee and high school sweetheart, according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s investigators and family members.
But his life was cut short when a would-be robber jumped over the restaurant counter where he was working, demanded money from the cash register and immediately fired a gunshot, according to Detective Adan Torres of the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau. The killer remains at large.
Video: Detective Adan Torres discusses the fatal shooting
“He was my life and he’s gone now, and I don’t know why anyone would do this to him,” Vidal’s fiancee, Juliana Sasaki said through tears.
His mother, Mary Smay, said her son was a kind and loving man and urged anyone with information about the killer to come forward.
“If anybody knows who did this, who took my son from me, you need to turn him in,” she said. “He’s taken my life. He’s taken my son away,” she said.
“He left to work. I sit on the couch and I think he’s going to just come back,” Smay said.
Video: Victim’s mother pleads for help her son’s killer
Vidal’s killer remains at large, and detectives released surveillance video footage of the crime on Thursday in hopes of generating tips from the public.
Vidal was working as a cashier at the restaurant when the gunman entered wearing a mask and brandishing a revolver, Torres said.
The gunman jumped the counter, demanded money, pointed the gun at Vidal and immediately opened fire, officials said.
“It was so quick, he didn’t even have a chance to react,” the detective said.
The would-be robber then jumped back over the counter and fled from the restaurant empty-handed.
The killer got into a waiting getaway car, described only as a dark-colored sedan, which drove away, Torres said. Detectives suspected he may have had an accomplice serving as a getaway driver.
The robber wore some type of mask over the top portion of his face which included a thick fake mustache and a large nose.
He also wore a light-blue long-sleeve T-shirt, khaki cargo shorts and black running shoes and a blue baseball cap with a vinyl or plastic brim.
Vidal grew up in El Monte and attended Arroyo High School, where he met his fiancee, Sasaki said.
He loved classic cars and enjoyed spending time working on his vehicles, she said.
“He was always so kind,” she said. “Everyone loved him. Even when he had nothing, he was always willing to help.”
Having recently graduated school as a pharmacy technician and receiving a job offer, “He was going to quit his job and start planning everything,” the fiancee said. The couple had yet to set a wedding date.
Vidal maintained a close relationship with his mother.
“He would be proud to say I was his mom, just like I was proud to say he was my son,” Smay said. “He was a kind, loving man. But to me, he’s always going to be by boy.”
Anyone with information is urged to call the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.
Funds to help Vidal’s family are being collected online at www.gofundme.com/2vh4f5w.
PHOTOS [ABOVE] Juan Manuel Vidal, 25, of El Monte (courtesy). [BELOW] Family members and LASD homicide detectives ask the public for help in finding the killer of Juan Vidal on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016. (Staff photo by Brian Day)