When gunfire rang out at a Church’s Chicken restaurant in Otay Mesa Wednesday night, bystanders rushed to help three employees struck by bullets, one that was deadly.
David Walker was sitting in his car outside the restaurant on Del Sol Boulevard near Picador Boulevard waiting for his shift to start at the next-door 7-Eleven when he heard two popping sounds, a pause, and at least three other pops.
“I thought it was fireworks until that started happening, once people started scattering,” Walker said.
He described the chaotic scene that followed -- people scattering and screaming for someone to call 911.
In a moment, a suspected gunman ran out the restaurant’s front door “as fast as he could get out of it” and a bleeding man tumbled out the back door and collapsed to the ground.
What happened next was instinct for Walker, he said. The brother of a nurse took off his belt and knotted it around the man’s wounded arm. Then he tried to plug up another bullet hole near the man’s chest.
“He was bleeding so bad, and I had to do what I had to do,” Walker said.
The man appeared to be close to blacking out, so Walker talked to him about his family -- three kids from the South Bay -- to keep him conscious.
“I was telling him to calm his breathing, talk to me about his family, tell me about his kids and everything just to calm his breathing down,” Walker said.
Meanwhile, a man who only wanted to be identified as Jose for fear of his safety was next door and had a view into the restaurant through the drive-thru window.
The suspect was “standing right behind the register and firing at the employees,” Jose said. “It just took me by surprise that it was happening.”
As the alleged gunman ran out, Jose approached the drive-thru window and saw a bleeding woman lying on the ground. Another employee of the restaurant described what had happened.
“A man said, ‘We’ve just been shot,’ and he turned around and he had blood on him too,” Jose said.
The victim told Jose employees were shot over an argument over a $20 bill. The San Diego Police Department said the bill was a counterfeit $100.
Marco Truvino remembers seeing the suspect go in and out of the eatery several times and heard part of the argument while he was eating dinner inside the Church’s Chicken.
The suspect told one employee who wouldn’t accept the bill, “‘Hey, are you planning to keep me here all night long,’” Truvino said. A woman asked the suspect to step out of the line.
Truvino left amid the argument and moments before gunfire erupted, he said. He didn’t recall seeing the man with a gun.
The three wounded employees were taken to Scripps Mercy Hospital and UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest. One died within an hour of the shooting, SDPD confirmed. Another has since been released and
A woman who came to the scene following the shooting told Telemundo 20 her daughter, 28-year-old Maribel Ibañez, was the one who was killed. A GoFundMe fundraising account was created to help the family with funeral costs.
A family friend identified the two injured victims as Mario Rojas, who is around 50 years old, and Humberto Ruiz, who is around 40 years old.
“Have the police caught the shooter? Well, I don’t want him to come back to work here,” said a mother of one of the victims, Gabriela Carucci.
Police were still searching for the suspect Thursday morning. He was described as a black man with a thin build in his 30s. He was about 6 feet tall and wearing a light blue sweater, red sunglasses and a Chargers beanie at the time of the shooting.
“We can’t even go out and eat without some person thinking it’s OK to shoot up -- to shoot anyone in general. It’s crazy. We can’t feel safe nowhere now. It’s kind of sad,” said Joanna Navarro, who lives in the area.
Late Wednesday, SDPD released a photo of a dark blue sedan that the suspect may have drove off in. Police said he was last seen driving north on Picador Boulevard.
The agency is likely working with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol to be on the lookout at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry, a spokesperson said.
The restaurant is roughly 10 minutes away from the border, and police said they cannot confirm if the suspect fled to Mexico or not, but that crews will monitor surveillance footage near the Otay Mesa Port of Entry.
NBC 7 reached out to Church's Chicken. They sent the following statement:
"We are saddened and shocked by this violence against our employees and are committed to working with the authorities to ensure the perpetrator is brought to justice. In the meantime, our sole focus is on supporting and comforting the victims, their families and our extended Church's family."
Anyone with information on the shooting was asked to call the SDPD Homicide Unit at (619)531-2293 or Crime Stoppers at (888)580-8477.