A Chinese eatery in Hillcrest reopened its doors for business Tuesday night, one week after a gunman fired close to 20 bullets into the restaurant while customers and employees were inside.
Though it was hard, a server who narrowly escaped death that night at the Golden Dragon Asian Bistro on University Avenue said he came back to work in an effort to forget it all.
"You have to move on, so I tried to forget that night and decided to come to work," Nattsakit Kgamnitiwarawat said.
Stefano Markell Parker, 29, is the man accused of firing into the restaurant. He could face a 374-year sentence if he is convicted of all 13 counts he is facing.
Police said Parker made a "disturbing" Facebook post prior to the shooting, and a member of the family that owns the bistro said he saw the alleged shooter get into an argument with a group of Asian Americans the weekend prior.
The restaurant is in the heart of a neighborhood known around the nation for its LGBTQ community, but at a news conference last Wednesday, SDPD Assistant Chief Al Guaderrama said investigators have more evidence to process before determining the shooting a hate crime.
The Hillcrest Town Council will meet Wednesday at St. Paul's Cathedral from 6 to 8 p.m. for a "crime spree and potential hate crimes forum."
Kgamnitiwarawat, and every single one of the other employees working that night, returned to work for the reopening.
"I am being with nice people around me so I feel OK," Kgamnitiwarawat said.
Mike Tamarkin, the restaurant owner's son, said the employees' decisions to return to work says a lot about them.
"We're not scared and it is a testament to our employees' strong will," he said.
"We're ready. "We're excited and can't wait to see all our regulars and get things back to normal," he added.
Thankfully, no one was injured in the shooting -- a fact that investigators and prosecutors both called miraculous.
SDPD Assistant Chief Al Guaderrama said last week that Parker wore a trench coat and calmly walked away after the shooting, carrying his rifle with him. Guaderrama said Parker fled down a nearby alley where another witness saw him taking off his clothes.
Officers made contact with Parker and took him into custody without incident.
A trail of evidence, including clothes that matched the witness description and the rifle, were found discarded in the alley where he was found.
The assistant chief could not say if the shooting was premeditated, but prosecutors at Parker's arraignment last Friday said that based on the number of shots and location of the bullet holes, the shooting was deliberate.
"It is miraculous that no one was injured. I believe that there was some fast thinking that was done by people that were inside fo the restaurant at that time and they were able to protect themselves. Based off what I've seen, it is clear that this was a premeditated, attempted murder. This was not someone just shooting indiscriminately up in the air. He was aiming at people inside of this restaurant," Deputy District Attorney Paul Reizen said.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer also spoke at the conference and said he had asked the police department to increase patrols in the Hillcrest neighborhood.
“We pride ourselves in San Diego for being a very diverse city and a city that celebrates unique culture. That is never going to change,” said Faulconer. “We will stand together to denounce violence and we will stand together to support our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community.”
Parker pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of premeditated attempted murder with a special allegation of discharging a firearm, plus one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm and one count of shooting into an occupied building.
Tamarkin said he recognized Parker as the man who got into a fight with a group of Asian Americans outside the Golden Dragon on Sunday, Feb. 10.
"He was just mumbling something incoherent and giving me a weird look and gave me a weird feeling so I was like, screw this and went back inside the restaurant," Tamarkin said.
Kollette Lavoy and her father were seated at a table in the back of the restaurant when the shots rang out. She said a piece of shattered glass from the front windows grazed her forehead.
"It felt like forever but then it was purely silent and that's when I just realized you are waiting for footsteps to walk in and just finish the job," Lavoy said.
SDPD has not determined how Parker got a hold of his rifle, but said the weapon he used was not registered to him and had not been reported stolen.
SDPD said they found 19, 5.66 caliber weapon casings outside of the restaurant, which was riddled with bullet holes.
According to Guaderrama, Parker's criminal history includes an arrest for homicide in Alabama several years ago.
Investigators are not sure when the crime occured, but believe it happened between 2000 and 2003. Guaderrama said Parker only served four or five years behind bars for the crime.
Investigators believe there were 11 people inside of the restaurant at the time of the shooting, and prosecutors asked anyone else who was inside to come forward and more charges will be added.
No other suspects are involved in the case. Parker is being held without bail.
San Diego City Council members Chris Ward (District 3), Jennifer Campbell (District 2) and Council President Georgette Gomez (District 9) issued a joint statement Wednesday regarding the shooting and other recent crime in the Hillcrest community.
“Over the past week, we have seen an increase in crime and violence in a community that has historically identified as LGBTQIA+. From the cowardly vandalism of Pride Plaza to last night’s shooting on University Avenue, it is clear that more must be done to address the rising public safety concerns of our residents. As members of the LGBTQIA+ community and the City Council, we stand united against these acts of violence and hate. What is meant to silence our community will only make us stronger, and we look forward to using that strength to work with the Mayor’s office and the San Diego Police Department to ensure we truly are a city that is safe for all.”