EXCLUSIVE: Crime Spree Suspect’s Family Speaks

Former firefighter Philip Hernandez, 40, went on a violent, three-day rampage across San Diego and was ultimately killed in a police shootout

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    NBC 7 San Diego

    The family of a man allegedly responsible for a string of violent crimes throughout San Diego spoke exclusively to NBC 7 about the suspect.

    Former 10-year firefighter Philip Hernandez, 40, was killed on Halloween night during a police shootout in Barrio Logan.

    In the days leading up to the shootout, Hernandez was wanted by police for allegedly committing a series of violent crimes across San Diego during a three-day period that including two shootings, three robberies, carjackings and the burning of three vehicles.

    One of those crimes was the “execution-style” shooting of off-duty SDPD officer Les Stewart, who was shot in the head at an ATM in Escondido.

    Another was the shooting of a man in Hillcrest.

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    Marisa Ugarte felt the need to speak up on behalf of 18-year-old Cindy Garcia after running into the young woman in court moments after Garcia's arraignment. NBC 7's Diana Guevara reports.

    Throughout the crime spree, Hernandez was accompanied by alleged accomplice Cindy Garcia, 18, who was taken into custody following the officer-involved shooting of Hernandez Wednesday night.

    Click here for a TIMELINE of the couple's violent crime spree

    In a jailhouse interview, Garcia told NBC 7 that she and Hernandez were involved in a serious romantic relationship and were married in Lake Tahoe this past June when she was just 17 years old.

    Garcia claimed the couple were “in love” despite their rocky past, which includes accusations of rape by Garcia against Hernandez when she was 16 years old.

    Hernandez was formerly employed by the Riverside Fire Department from July 2002 to July 2012. He had a criminal record, which Garcia said may have triggered his bizarre crime spree in San Diego.

    In an exclusive interview with NBC 7, Hernandez’s mother, brother and sister said his behavior last week was completely out of character.

    They said they’re shocked by his involvement in numerous crimes and the events that transpired leading to Hernandez’s death.

    Before the crime spree, Hernandez’s family said he had always been a role model, spending his life serving his family, community and country.

    “He was an honorable person. He served in the military. He was a firefighter. He never got involved with the law,” his mother, who wanted to remain anonymous, told NBC 7.

    Hernandez’s family said he graduated from Chula Vista High School and then joined the Army, serving in Iraq in Desert Storm and also Sarajevo. They also said he was a firefighter for 10 years and loved his job, rescuing people from danger.

    Thus, Hernandez’s recent behavior was a complete departure from how he’s lived the majority of his life, his mother said. She also said she’s sorry for what her son did and the pain it caused the victims of his crimes.

    “My heart goes out to the victims and their families because you know, that wasn't my son,” said his mother.

    Hernandez’s brother and sister are also baffled by his behavior.

    “I was really close to my brother. He was a father figure to me because I lost my dad, and so I looked up to him,” said his sister, who also did not want to reveal her identity.

    His brother, who also wishes to remain anonymous, said former colleagues of Hernandez are also in disbelief.

    “Guys that I don't even know that work with him, calling me up and saying, ‘I'm sorry about your brother, I know you don't know who I am but I worked alongside of him and he was a great fire fighter,’” he told NBC 7.

    Though Hernandez’s family can’t quite explain what prompted such an abrupt change in the former firefighter’s life, his mother believes his partner, 18-year-old Garcia, played a major factor.

    His family said they met Garcia just a few months ago.

    “She took him from me. I think if he never would've got involved with this person, he would still be here. He would still be the man he always was, an honorable person,” his mother said.

    Prosecutors say Hernandez was arrested for his relationship with Garcia, which began two years ago when she was underage. The mark on his record may have been too much for Hernandez to handle.

    “You know, I think he would rather go out that way than end up with the consequences,” his mother added.

    Jim Koerber with the District Attorney’s office said it’s believed Hernandez shot a man in Hillcrest during his rampage because he thought it was the person who arrested him for his relationship with Garcia.

    Officials also believe that Hernandez and Garcia targeted an officer during their crime spree, with plans to kidnap and hold an individual for ransom before placing the person into a car and burning it.

    Hernandez’s mother, who’s currently being treated for colon cancer, said her son called her the day before he was killed by police and told her he loved her.

    Garcia, who's currently being held at Las Colinas Detention Facility on multiple charges, including carjacking and robbery, is scheduled to appear in court Wednesday.

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