San Francisco police on Wednesday said they arrested a 30-year-old man after a Muni passenger and Southern California native was killed in an attack they are calling "random" and "unprovoked."
In a statement, police said Nikhom Thephakaysone was arrested on Tuesday outside his Oceanview District home in connection with the fatal shooting of Justin Valdez, 20, who was a sophomore at San Francisco State University and hails from Garden Grove. He was charged with homicide, police said, and is in custody.
Valdez was killed about 9:50 p.m. Monday as he was getting off a Muni light-rail train.
Police said the shooting appears to be random and unprovoked, and that the shooter did not know Valdez, who began SF State last fall and had not yet declared a major. Police did not immediately release any more details about Thephakaysone, and the evidence that led police to arrest him.
For two days police had been looking for an Asian man, 20 to 30 years old with a stocky build and who was last wearing a black baseball cap with a purple brim and logo (pictured in the video below.)
As news of the arrest circulated, those who knew Valdez were mourning for him. University president Les Wong issued a statement Wednesday : "This is truly a tragedy for Justin's friends and family, and for the entire university community. I have reached out to Justin's family to offer our heartfelt concern, and to assure them that we stand ready to offer support and assistance at this difficult time."
Valdez had attended Garden Grove High School and lived with his uncle, his high school principal Steve Osborne said.
Osborne recalled a "passionate and persistent" student who was the president of the school's environmental club and a top competitor in the Garden Grove High aquatics program. While Valdez was a student, he would talk with Osborne frequently to see about changes to the school's recycling program, the principal said. He also pushed tirelessly to establish a "Lights Out Wednesday" program to cut the school's carbon footprint, according to his former principal.
Ben Diaz, a teammate of Valdez on SF State's water polo team, described his friend as the most positive person he has ever met.
"It's bizarre, I don't know how to put it in words," Diaz said. "It doesn't make sense that something like this could happen to someone so great."
Vigils will be held in Valdez's honor at the high school's pool deck on Friday and Sunday, and there will be a "Lights Out for Justin Day" in the coming days, Osborne said.
"It's been devastating for teachers who knew him," Osborne said.
The San Francisco Police Department is asking anyone with information on the identification of the suspect to contact Sgt. Gary Watts at 415-734-3114 or the anonymous tip line at 415-575-4444. Citizens may also text a tip at TIP411 and type SFPD in the subject line.