San Diego

Closer Look: The Victims of the Church's Chicken Restaurant Shooting

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

“I’m looking for my daughter,” a frantic mother said to reporters at the scene of a shooting at Church’s Chicken in south San Diego Wednesday evening. Hours later, that heartbroken mother’s worst fears came true: her daughter was gone.

The mother, sobbing as she rushed to the scene of the shooting at the restaurant, didn’t share her name, but briefly spoke with Telemundo 20. She was desperate for answers amid the chaos.

“They told me she’s at Mercy Hospital,” she cried.

The mother said the victim’s name was Maribel Ibanez.

Hours later, that mother would confirm to Telemundo 20 that Ibanez had not survived her wounds.

NBC 7's Gaby Rodriguez learned heartbreaking new details about the victims of the Church's Chicken shooting in Otay Mesa.

A family friend said Ibanez was a newlywed and had been working at the Church’s Chicken eatery on Del Sol Boulevard in Otay Mesa for several years as a shift leader.

A GoFundMe page created by friends of the victim said Ibanez had gotten married on March 12.

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

Ibanez's sister, Gabriela Merino, said the newlyweds met at a dancing club, and said dancing was one of her sister's favorite hobbies.

She went on to describe her as "always a happy person, helpful worker. She was the tough one of the family.”

Merino said a vigil was planned for her sister and the other two victims of the shooting at 6 p.m. Friday in the parking lot of the Church's Chicken restaurant. All are welcome, including customers who knew and loved Ibanez.

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

Melissa, a frequent customer who got to know Ibanez over time, came to the restaurant Thursday to drop off flowers and pay her respects.

She said Ibanez always treated her and her husband well, and they even developed their own little inside joke.

"She would flirt with my husband and I didn't mind, you know, because we would get free chicken from it," Melissa said. "Overall, she was a nice young girl and it's very tragic that something like this happened around our community."

Ibanez often worked the drive-thru, so her smile was familiar to many customers.

Ibanez's friend said Ibanez took the brunt of the gunfire when an unknown man walked into the restaurant at around 5:35 p.m. and shot at three employees across the service counter. The family friend also identified the other two employees wounded in the restaurant shooting: Mario Rojas and Humberto Ruiz.

Police said Thursday that one of those victims had been released from the hospital, while the other was still being treated and was expected to recover.

As of 1 p.m. Thursday, the Church’s Chicken gunman remained at large. San Diego police described him as a black man with a thin build, likely in his 30s. He stood approximately 6 feet tall, and was wearing a light blue sweater, red sunglasses and a beanie with the Chargers team logo on it at the time of the deadly shooting. Officials released this photo of the suspect's vehicle:

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

He soon returned, this time with a loaded gun.

Underwood said the suspect aimed his bullets at the employees behind the counter, not customers.

“It appears it was directed at the employees who he got into an argument with earlier,” the captain told NBC 7.

The suspect ran out of the restaurant before officers arrived.

Witness David Walker works at the 7-Eleven store next door to the Church's Chicken restaurant. He was sitting his car waiting to head into his shift when he heard gunfire.

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

He said he saw the gunman run out of the restaurant seconds later. Then, Walker said he saw a bleeding man stumble out of the back door of the business and onto the ground. Walker ran over to help the victim, taking off his belt to use as a tourniquet for the victim's wounds.

"He had another hole in him. I tried to plug that up before police got there," Walker told NBC 7.

Church's Chicken remained closed Thursday but several people came by to drop off flowers and candles in rememberance of the victims.

Church's Chicken released this statement about the victims Thursday, too. 

"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."

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