The man accused of firing close to 20 bullets into a Hillcrest restaurant while customers and employees were inside could face a 374-year sentence if he is convicted of all 13 counts he is facing.
Police say Stefano Markell Parker, 29, made a “disturbing” Facebook post prior to unleashing a barrage of bullets into the Golden Dragon Asian Bistro on University Avenue Tuesday night.
Nine customers and some employees were inside the restaurant at the time of the shooting, but no one was injured.
The restaurant is in the heart of a neighborhood known around the nation for its LGBTQ community, and a man whose family owns the restaurant said witnessed an altercation between Parker and a group of Asian Americans outside the bistro the weekend prior.
At a Wednesday press conference, SDPD Assistant Chief Al Guaderrama said investigators have more evidence to process before determining the shooting a hate crime.
SDPD Assistant Chief Al Guaderrama said that Parker recently made a Facebook post that was “quite disturbing,” but said investigators still have evidence to process before they determine a motive in the shooting.
“We have a tremendous amount of evidence that we need to go through before we make the determination that it was a hate crime,” Guaderrama said.
The assistant chief could not say if the shooting was premeditated, but prosecutors said Friday that based on the number of shots and location of the bullet holes that 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.
The owner of the Golden Dragon told NBC 7 Tuesday night he didn’t recognize Parker, but a family member of the owner said that he recognized Parker from an incident at the restaurant on Sunday, Feb. 10.
Mike Tamarkin said he saw a photo of the suspect and realized he had been in a fight with a group of Asian Americans outside the Golden Dragon that day.
“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.
Tamarkin said he saw homophobic social media posts allegedly made by the suspect, calling them “sad” and “terrible.”
Witnesses told SDPD Parker wore a trench coat and calmly walked away after the shooting, carrying the 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 said he was hesitant to release more details of the crime in fear it could hinder the investigation, which he said will last days and consist of interviewing a number of witnesses and processing surveillance video.
“We owe it to the community of Hillcrest and those nine victims,” he 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.
SDPD Officer Audra Brown said the evidence initially led them to Parker as a person of interest. He was questioned for hours before being declared a suspect.
“It’s quite a blessing,” Brown said. “With that hail of gunfire that went out – that nobody was hit.”
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.
“There could’ve been lives lost yesterday – and I think everybody realizes that,” Guaderrama said.
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.”