Gaspar Puch-Tzek, a 22-year-old San Francisco resident who worked as a cook at Hog & Rocks, died Wednesday of gunshot wounds, according to the medical examiner. Police say the victim was mistaken for a gang member.
At 12:20 a.m. on Tuesday, Puch-Tzek, who had just gotten off work from the restaurant at 19th and San Carlos, was smoking a cigarette with two co-workers when two men in their mid-20s approached the group. The suspects, using a derogatory word for Sureño gang members, asked who the workers claimed, Corrales said.
When the victim made it clear that he claimed no gang, one of the suspects shot him in the face and then fled with his accomplice west on 19th Street.
A witness, who declined to be identified, heard the gunshots. “They were loud gunshots, someone screamed, ‘Call the police,’” she said, still shaken from the experience. “I ran out and he was shot in the head.”
“I’m shocked; this is a nice area. I haven’t heard a gunshot in three or four years,” said Michael Hammash, a buser at Hog & Rocks who has lived in the building for 14 years.
Puch-Tzek was taken to San Francisco General Hospital, where he later died.
Hog & Rocks owner David Esler said Puch-Tzek had been working at the restaurant for approximately six months.
Captain Greg Corrales told residents attending the monthly community meeting at the Mission District Police Station on Tuesday night that this was a “very brutal shooting.”
“No matter how much one is exposed to violence and brutality, you think of this poor guy trying to make a living … and these you-know-whats come and shoot him for no reason, it’s very disturbing,” Corrales said.
“What the hell is wrong with people?” muttered Jan Naftulin as he sat in the meeting with more than two dozen residents and listened to Corrales describe how the cook ended up being shot in the face by two young men that police believe were probably Norteño gang members.
Police and others offered several theories as to why gang members might shoot at a man without gang affiliations, including mistaken identity and the possibility that the murder was part of a gang initiation.
Puch-Tzek’s murder was the second in the Mission District this year, but at 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday, another man was fatally shot at 20th and Hampshire, bringing the number of homicides in the district to three. The first occurred early on the morning of February 26, when, police believe, rival gang members shot and killed Aldo Troncoso at 17th and Mission, a zone known as Sureño territory.
Gang members usually kill one another, Corrales said, but even though Puch-Tzek was an innocent victim, there is a heightened possibility of retaliation because the attack was directed against Sureños and occurred in their territory.
“We have a lot of people out on the street in anticipation of retaliation,” Corrales said. “We are back to a full-court press,” he added, referring to the period earlier this year in which Troncoso was murdered.
That fatal shooting took place during a two-month outbreak of violence that began in early February, when Sureño graffiti appeared in Norteño territory at 19th and Bryant. Several non-fatal shootings followed the Troncoso murder, including a final lunchtime shoot-out on March 2 at Harrison and 24th streets. That was the last gang-related shooting this year, until now.
Police believe that Norteño gang members were responsible for Tuesday’s shooting, Corrales said, but he provided no details regarding specific suspects and it is not clear whether the gang task force has identified suspects in the case.
“We have a lot of informants, so we may find out who did it, but people are scared to testify,” Corrales said. “Often the only justice that prevails in these things is street justice.
“When we know who did it … we may not be able to get him for the homicide, but if they are on probation or parole, we give them a lot of attention.”
When gang violence erupted earlier this year, police and community groups met early and often, working together to reduce tension on the street.
Police were on alert even before Tuesday’s shootings, Corrales said, because of a wake scheduled for today and a funeral for a Sunnyvale gang member that will be held in the Mission on Thursday.