As the city continues to mourn the killing of police officer Juan José Díaz, fellow students and teachers from Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School remember him as a “kind and respectful” youth and “an extremely charming lad” who was overjoyed when he was accepted into the Police Academy.
Díaz, 24, was off duty with his girlfriend and her two brothers when he was shot and killed at a taco stand in Lincoln Heights early Saturday morning. Police continue to search for suspects in the shooting, reported to be gang-related. The Los Angeles Police Department will pay tribute to the slain officer at a memorial to be held next month at the Los Angeles Cathedral.
Díaz grew up and lived in Cypress Park, a neighborhood about thee miles Northwest of where he was shot, according to news reports. He graduated from the Boyle Heights high school in 2014.
“Juan was just the friendliest guy you could imagine,” said Martin Gómez, a longtime friend of Diaz. “He was an extremely charming lad who just radiated this positivity that drew people in. We loved him.”
Gómez said he met Diaz at Arroyo Seco Museum Science Magnet School in Highland Park and their friendship continued on during their time at Bravo High School. They both had recently attended the Vans Warped Tour in Mountain View to watch Silverstein, Díaz’s favorite band, perform.
“Juan was my best friend and I think it’s safe to say he was everyone’s best friend too.”Martín Gómez
“He got me to leave my house and explore the city more,” recalled Gómez. “Juan was my best friend and I think it’s safe to say he was everyone’s best friend too.”
Victoria Montes, a secondary English teacher at Bravo, became close to Díaz even though he was never one of her students.
“He was very kind, respectful, and had an easy rapport,” Montes recalled in an email to Boyle Heights Beat. “He stood out. He always had this huge smile on his face (the same one in his Academy photo).”
“Over the years he was at Bravo, he and his friends would always drop by my room” said Montes, who clarified an emotional post on Facebook where she mistakenly referred to him as “my student” and where she recalled how he provided her support during the teacher’s strike in January.
“He stood out. He always had this huge smile on his face (the same one in his Academy photo).”Victoria Montes
The teacher also recalled how Díaz became equipment manager for Bravo’s girls’ varsity softball team. That brought her closer to him, since Montes’ daughter played on the team. The two kept in touch after Diaz graduated.
“When he started applying for the LAPD, we talked a lot about the process and he put me down as a reference,” said Montes. “He worked at the CVS in the neighborhood so he would update me on the application process whenever he was working. He was so ecstatic when he was finally hired and started the academy.”
Díaz joined the LAPD in 2017 and was assigned to the Special Operations Division, which conducts investigations into department personnel. The Los Angeles Times reported that a family member told mourners at a vigil Saturday night that he had wanted to be a police officer since preschool.
According to the news reports, Diaz and his companions were waiting in line at the taco stand near Avenue 26 and Humboldt Street shortly after midnight when he saw a person tagging a nearby wall. Díaz confronted that person and told them to stop , but it’s unclear if he identified himself as a cop. The Los Angeles Times reported that moments after that confrontation, a group of men approached Díaz and began threatening him and his friends. One of them, the paper said, lifted his shirt to reveal a gun.
The paper cited an unnamed source who said the gunman claimed allegiance to the Avenues gang and told Diaz and his companions that they were in its territory. As the group rushed to their car to avoid a confrontation the gunman opened fire and wounded Díaz and one of his girlfriend’s brothers.
A witness flagged down an LAPD motorcycle officer who found the two men with gunshot wounds at around 1 am. Diaz was pronounced dead at the scene; the other victim was rushed to a nearby hospital for treatment.
Over 100 people paid their respects to Díaz the night of the shooting at the vigil held in front of LAPD’s downtown headquarters, and hundreds more have left flowers and notes at a memorial at the site of the shooting decorated with a huge United States flag. Among those, police officers from Hollenbeck division who patrol the area where the shooting took place.
The slain officer was also remembered by many as a Dodgers fan; many people wore Dodgers blue hats to the vigil and the team’s flag was also placed in the memorial. Several former and current elected officials are among the many mourners who have expressed their condolences on social media. On Monday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered the city’s flags to be lowered to half-staff in his honor.
Details of funeral services for Díaz were unveiled Tuesday. The officer’s family will receive mourners from 6 to 11 pm on Aug. 11 at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills. The following morning, a 9 am memorial mass is to be held at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles. Díaz will be buried at Forest Lawn immediately following the service.
A GoFundMe account raising money for the officer’s family had raised over $12,000 of its $25,000 goal on Wednesday. Detectives from LAPD’s Robbery Homicide Division are currently leading the investigation into the shooting.
Boyle Heights Beat reporter Jacqueline Ramírez contributed to this story.