A young man fatally shot in front of his San Leandro home in December was the victim of mistaken identity and was apparently only killed because he lived behind a marijuana grow operation, police said Wednesday.
The San Leandro City Council approved a $25,000 reward for information leading to criminal charges against the killer on Tuesday night,
Joel Ramirez was shot and killed the morning of Dec. 14, just three days after his 21st birthday. He was found when a neighbor walking her dog in the 400 block of Kenilworth Avenue saw Ramirez's car parked and running outside his home at about 9:35 a.m., San Leandro police Lt. Robert McManus said at a news conference today.
When she returned a few minutes later and the car remained there, she became suspicious and called police. Officers arrived and found Ramirez shot dead in the driver's seat of his car, McManus said.
Ramirez lived in a rear in-law unit on the block. Investigators served a search warrant on the front house the next day and discovered it was vacant and housed a marijuana grow operation with 250 plants at various stages of development, McManus said.
Police initially looked into the possibility that Ramirez was involved in the grow operation, but McManus said today it quickly became clear he was targeted in a case of mistaken identity. Police suspect the killer was attempting to kill someone involved in the operation but shot Ramirez instead.
In order to prevent the killer from learning of the mistake and making another murder attempt on the intended target, McManus said investigators held off on releasing Ramirez's identity until today. But now they are making a plea for public assistance in solving the case.
Ramirez had arrived home early that morning after spending time with his girlfriend, Laura Miller of San Leandro, the night before.
Miller said today that she became concerned when she didn't receive a text message when Ramirez arrived home, something he did after every night he spent with her.
Worried, she drove to Ramirez's home the next morning, expecting to wake him up and ask why he hadn't sent his usual text message. But instead she found the street blocked off with police tape and officers everywhere.
"I just hope this reward helps people come forward," Miller said, holding back tears. "Please, if you know anything, just come forward. It won't bring him back, but it will help a little."
Ramirez was a San Leandro native who graduated from San Leandro High School and was attending classes at Chabot College in Hayward, McManus said. He worked at El Torito restaurant on the San Leandro Marina and had aspirations of becoming a police detective.
"He's the person you would want to live next door to," McManus said.
His mother, Magedelana Ramirez, said through a Spanish interpreter Wednesday that her son was "a loving, generous and very funny young man with a bright future."
"Losing him this way was a huge tragedy for me, his family and anyone else who knew him," she said.
Joel Ramirez's neighbors have established a scholarship in his honor that will be awarded to a San Leandro High School senior. More information about the scholarship is available at www.slsf.us.
Anyone with information about his death has been asked to call the San Leandro police Criminal Investigations Division at (510) 577-3230.