Highland Park resident Darlin Duarte stood behind the line of television cameras and quietly watched the LAPD news conference that identified two gang members suspected of killing her twin brother, 31-year-old Daniel Duarte, as he slept in a tent in a homeless encampment.
When asked if she wanted to join the detectives and speak publicly, she slowly shook her head, “no.”
In an interview with the Boulevard Sentinel, she said, “Half of me is gone.”
Dressed in green scrubs, Ms. Duarte said she took a break from her job as a medical assistant to be there.
It was important for her to hear that the two men, Andrew Palacios, 18, and Jimmy Perez, 31, are facing murder charges for her brother’s death and are off the streets.
Police said another homeless man, whose name was not released, was injured in the shooting.
Mr. Palacios was arrested on Feb. 2, and the investigation recently led to the arrest of Jimmy Perez, 31, on Mar. 15. Mr. Palacios is being held in lieu of $5 million bail. Mr. Perez’s bail is set at $5.1 million.
The shooting occurred at about 5 a.m., Jan. 21, with bullets fired into the homeless encampment at Avenue 52 and Griffin Avenue in Montecito Heights. The shooting “was random,” said LAPD Detective George Manriquez. He said gang members “are cowards, they go after individuals who cannot help themselves.”
Daniel had been living in a tent in the encampment, an area of makeshift housing away from public view surrounded by brush and trees, near the Pasadena freeway onramp.
Who Was Daniel Duarte?
Daniel was one of more than 34,000 homeless people currently in Los Angeles.
The homeless are often painted with a broad negative brush and viewed as dispensable, without anyone who cares about them. But Daniel had an on-again, off-again girlfriend, a 2-year-old daughter and nearby family members who he knew and who loved him.
The Duarte family heard about the shooting at their brother’s encampment while watching a Sunday morning news program, and Darlin rushed to get there
She said although her brother was
homeless, he kept in touch with his family and they always knew where he stayed.
When she arrived at the encampment, the first thing she saw was a coroner’s van parked on site. She was stopped before she could reach her brother’s tent. After explaining to police that her brother lived there, she was asked for his description.
She told police her brother had two tattoos – a Firebird on his chest because he loved the cars and their family name, “Duarte” on his back.
Police told her to wait. When they returned, they gave her the news.
She said his death is especially hard to accept because he was taken in a senseless shooting. She repeated, “I was his twin.”
She spoke honestly, describing a difficult road growing up that included a struggle she and her brother shared with meth addiction. She was able to beat it and create a stable life, but her “other half,” Daniel, wasn’t as fortunate.
As word of his passing spread, she learned that she and her family weren’t the only ones who appreciated her brother.
“A woman who I never met told me she remembered my brother. She told me she got stuck on the Pasadena freeway and my brother appeared and just helped her. At first, she wasn’t sure about him, she had a child with her, but when he saw she was in trouble, he just helped her.”
Ms. Duarte said it is very difficult for her family to accept Daniel’s death as their reality.
“I think, maybe he’s just gone for a little while and I still expect to see him riding by on his bicycle or coming to the house for a shower and a meal. Sometimes, people don’t understand why he was homeless because he had us, but my brother was a free spirit.”
Ms. Duarte also speculated that her brother may have stayed on the street to spare his family from being affected by his struggles with drug addiction.
“He once lived in a tent on the bridge over a freeway that we could see from our house and I would whistle to him.”
She proudly recalled her brother growing up, “He was always smart. He could read a book about how to fix something and then remember everything he read and do it.”
While living on the streets he made money fixing bikes, she said.
Ms. Duarte said that after the shooting, many people asked about a memorial service, but the family was too overwhelmed to hold one. Instead, she asked the people she came to know in the homeless community to say “thank you” to everyone who may have helped her brother. “I was told, ‘What do you mean?’” recalled Ms. Duarte, her eyes filling with tears. “We didn’t help your brother, your brother helped us.“
Looking onto the grassy area made green by the recent rain, Ms. Duarte said, “I won’t be able to hold him, he’s gone. My brother may not have had the best life, but he was still a good guy.”