San Diego

Vigil Honors Victims of Church's Chicken Shooting as Police Investigation Continues

Newlywed Maribel Ibanez, 28, was killed when a gunman opened fire on employees at a Church’s Chicken Restaurant in Otay Mesa Wednesday evening

Days after a tragic shooting took the life of their friend and shift leader and wounded two of their coworkers, employees of Church's Chicken in Otay Mesa began cleaning up the mess left inside the restaurant while loved ones prepared for an evening vigil just outside its doors.

Maribel Ibañez, 28, died on Wednesday when a disgruntled customer armed with a gun opened fire on employees behind the counter of the restaurant just miles north of the San Ysidro Port of Entry, the San Diego Police Department said. 

Several rounds were fired and two other employees, identified by a family member as Mario Rojas and Humberto Ruiz, were struck. Ruiz has since been released from the hospital. 

NBC 7's Jackie Crea spoke to a frequent customer of the restaurant who got to know Maribel Ibanez.

As of Friday evening the suspected gunman had not been found. Police believe he took off northbound in Picador Boulevard in a dark blue sedan.

The San Diego Police Department said they were looking for 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.

But while the investigation into the shooting continued, loved ones and coworkers celebrated the life of Ibañez, a woman they described as a happy person and a helpful worker, and prayed for a speedy recovery for her coworkers at a vigil in the parking lot.

Ibanez was a newlywed and had been working at the Church’s Chicken on Del Sol Boulevard for several years as a shift leader, according to her sister, Gabreila Merino.

Merino said Ibañez met her husband at a dancing club, which was one of her favorite hobbies.

Ibañez's husband, Ramon Mendoza, said she was the love of his life and described her as always happy. He pleaded for anyone with information, or to anyone who might see the suspect's car, to call police.

NBC 7's Melissa Adan spoke with Maribel Ibañez's husband as he pleads for help in finding the gunman.

"First off, the thing is we want justice," Merino told NBC 7 Friday. "I want justice for the three of them, my sister that got killed and the two others that got shot."

Ibañez's mother was one of the first people to get to the restaurant following the shooting. She arrived wanting to know where her daughter was, but hours later police confirmed her daughter didn't survive her injuries.

“I have a lot of pain in my heart," her mother said at the vigil. "I don’t know how I’m going to take it, how it’s going to go away.”

She said she had faith justice would be served for her daughter's death.

“[The shooter] got the wrong person but he’s gonna pay one day. I have faith in God," she said.

Ibañez's mother thanked those gathered at the vigil, and all the others in the greater community, for their support over the last two days.

A GoFundMe page created to raise funds for Ibañez's funeral said she had gotten married on March 12.

"She was a loving daughter, sister and aunt," the online fundraising page said.

Candles, Flowers Honor Victims of Church's Chicken Shooting

Hilda Lucero, a former coworker of Ibañez's at the restaurant, said Ibañez never called out and was always on time. She came to the vigil because her, Ibañez and the rest of her former coworkers "were like family."

"She was the strong one," Lucero said. "Taking care of her mom and sisters.”

Rojas remained in the hospital Friday evening awaiting surgery to remove a bullet lodged near his spine. He's already undergone surgery to remove a bullet from his arm.

A friend described Rojas as a recently remarried father of three and grandfather of two.

Ruiz was released from the hospital, but family members said he's dealing with understandable emotional trauma.

Family, friends and strangers stopped by the restaurant Thursday to deliver flowers and candles. A small memorial had formed next to the restaurant's front doors by Friday afternoon.

A relative and friend of the victims described them to NBC 7's Omari Fleming as always smiling and joking around together.

Church's Chicken said they were "saddened and shocked" by the events that took place at one of its establishments. 

"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."

According to SDPD Capt. Tom Underwood, the suspect had visited the restaurant minutes before the shooting. He tried to pay for food using a counterfeit bill then got into an argument with employees and left.

Minutes later, he returned with a loaded gun. 

NBC 7's Dave Summers spoke to a witness who came to the aid of a victim and another who confronted the shooter.

The restaurant is roughly 10 minutes away from the border. Police said they cannot confirm if the suspect fled to Mexico, but said investigators will monitor surveillance footage near the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa international ports of entry.

The San Diego County District Attorney’s Victim Services Division announced Friday that those affected by the shooting should contact the department for any medical and emotional needs.

“Our victim advocates stand ready to assist victims of crime in their most desperate moments,” District Attorney Summer Stephan said. “The protection of victims of crime is a core part of our mission and each year we help at least 13,000 crime victims with support and resources.”

Victims may receive services and resources by calling the Victim Services Division at (619) 531-4041. The department is supported by the State of California’s Victim Compensation Board.

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.

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