A 30-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the killing of a Cathedral Catholic High School teacher who was found shot on a sidewalk in North Park, the San Diego Police Department said Tuesday.
Jesse M. Alvarez, of San Diego, is suspected of shooting 37-year-old Mario Fierro -- a beloved high school teacher and coach at the North County San Diego school -- outside Fierro's home in the 4500 block of Kansas Street, just west of 30th Street before 7:15 a.m. Monday.
Alvarez was arrested in Serra Mesa Monday night and was booked into San Diego Central Jail on one count of murder. He is expected in court on Feb. 19.
After reports of gunfire that morning, San Diego police arrived to find Fierro wounded on the sidewalk. Medics attempted to revive him, but he was pronounced dead at the scene.
Witnesses reported seeing a man in jeans and a zip-up top heading northbound on Kansas Street in a small, older vehicle. SDPD recovered images from at least two home security cameras nearly a block away. Investigators say evidence led them to Alvarez that night.
A motive has yet to be established, but investigators told NBC 7 the shooting incident may have stemmed from an argument between both men.
Fierro was beloved by those who knew him, including his colleagues and students. The admiration was evident at a vigil held at Cathedral Catholic High School less than a day after his death. About 100 people showed up to pay tribute to the man described by the Catholic Diocese of San Diego as "young, vibrant and full of life."
"Sad. Just a profound sense of loss for our community," Cathedral principal Kevin Calkins told NBC 7 at the vigil. Calkins had a special relationship with Fierro. He said the two often leaned on each other for support on tough days.
"He was a very passionate teacher. He loved teaching, loved young people. You went into his classroom, you saw the energy, you felt the energy," he added.
Passion was a resounding theme for those who knew Fierro, including fellow coach Jeff Nolan.
"He was like passion defined because he had passion for life, passion for his job, passion for coaching, passion for his faith," Norton said.
Many of Fierro's students and players came by his North Park home on Tuesday to mourn the loss of their beloved teacher.
"He was a role model 'cause he always knew the right answer," said Dee’shon Swafford. "He always lived his life for God and in the right way and as a Catholic man. So that grew close to me, because I was able to learn how to grow as a Catholic man."
"It's hard to believe that someone full of energy like that could, like, go away so quickly," said another student. "And it blew my mind, and I'm really saddened to hear that he passed."
According to a post on Cathedral Catholic's Facebook page, Fierro was recently engaged to another teacher at the school.
The Catholic Diocese of San Diego said Fierro graduated from Cathedral Catholic in 2002 and returned to teach social science 14 years later. He also served as the Athletic Director at Notre Dame Academy, an elementary/middle school tied to the high school.
Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego’s North County canceled classes until Thursday after hearing about the shooting. Grief counselors will be made available for students and staff, the school said.
"Obviously, this is a shock. Our prayers go out to Mario's friends and family," a letter from the Catholic Diocese read.
A fund was set up through the Larry Himmel Neighborhood Foundation to help Fierro's family with funeral costs and other needs. By Tuesday afternoon, the page had surpassed $42,000 in donations from hundreds of people.
SDPD homicide detectives continue to investigate the incident. Anyone with information regarding this incident is asked to call SDPD's Homicide Unit at (619) 531-2293 or Crime Stoppers at (888) 580-8477.
Police have not yet released any information about the weapon used to kill Mario Fierro. On Tuesday, the Catholic Community Foundation of San Diego announced that a scholarship was created in Fierro's name. Contributions can be made here.