A woman was shot and killed outside her City Heights home Thursday where police said her young children may have been inside. Her husband was arrested as the suspected gunman, according to the San Diego Police Department.
Julia Maria Serrano Avila, 29, was identified by her father as the slain mother shortly after the shooting.
She was shot at least once in the upper body on the street outside a pawn shop on the 3800 block of 46th Street at about 5:30 a.m., SDPD Sgt. Michelle Velovich said.
Medics attempted to save the mother's life for about 30 minutes, but she succumbed to her injuries, police said.
The suspect identified by police as 28-year-old Fernando Avila, took off on foot but was taken into custody nearby a short time later.
NBC 7 learned that Julia Maria Serrano Avila had filed for divorce from Fernando Avila on Nov. 25. She was planning on serving Fernando Avila with those papers on Thursday, the father told NBC 7.
Pablo Serrano, the victim's father, said the couple had been together since they were teenagers. They used to live at his home, and he didn’t support their decision to move in together.
“I didn’t like the idea because I know the guy was just lazy. To me anybody that’s lazy is just no good," Pablo Serrano said.
Witnesses reported hearing the couple arguing before the shooting, which occurred just blocks from Rosa Parks Elementary School and the neighborhood's City Center.
Violeta Marquez, who lives next door to the family, said she first heard screams and called 911. Then, she witnessed Fernando Avila fire two shots at Julia Maria Serrano Avila.
“She sat on the sidewalk and that’s when I don’t know what he told her,” Marquez said. “And just like seconds, he shot her again.”
Fernando Avila stayed and held her before taking off on foot, witnesses said.
“I thought probably if I screamed and told him stop, because the police is coming, he was going to stop, but then I thought about my kids and what if he started firing at my house, so I didn’t do it, and I feel bad in my way, because he probably would’ve stopped,” Marquez told NBC 7.
Velovich said an argument started inside their home and spilled into the street.
“As soon as I heard the arguments, I called 911, and I was on the phone with them when everything happened,” Marquez said.
It was not clear how much, if any, of the shooting the children witnessed but they were inside the home at the time. Officers would take the children to stay with family members. A neighbor said they were about between 8 and 12-years old.
“I didn’t know if he was going to go back and shoot the kids,” Marquez said.
Police are investigating the incident as a case of domestic violence. It was unclear if there were any other domestic violence incidents in the couple's past, but police were investigating, Velovich said.
San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan spoke with NBC 7 about domestic violence in November.
“It’s an awful reminder of the devastation of domestic violence that still is the number one killer for women across the United States. They’re killed by someone who’s supposed to love them,” Stephan said. “Please seek help, because one way or another, the violence will escalate. You can’t stay in a violent, threatening home.”
Rosa Payton lives nearby and said she heard a commotion but was too scared to go outside and find out what was going on. When she discovered what happened Thursday morning, she was nervous to walk to her car.
"I always watch my back because you're never safe anywhere," Payton said.
She said she is planning to move out of the neighborhood as soon as her lease is up next month.
“It's kind of scary to live here as a female and coming home from work, you're never secure,” she said. “You don't know what's going to happen. I always look around but it's still scary.”
Fernando Avila was booked into county jail for murder.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233. Please seek help.