A man fatally stabbed Monday near 23rd and K streets has been identified as Mario Alberto Zavala, 24, according to the Merced County Coroner's Office.
Meanwhile, members of the victim's family hope someone will come forward to help law enforcement solve the case.
Andrea Hernandez, the victim's 26-year-old niece, said Zavala had moved to Merced from Los Banos around two months ago with plans to attend Merced College. Hernandez said her uncle had considered possibly pursuing a career in pharmacology, although his main goal was to take care of his general education credits. "He said there was more things happening (in Merced). He felt more confident that he could get a job and a better education," Hernandez said.
Hernandez said the victim was "like a brother" to her, and had never been involved in gangs. Hernandez said her family is devastated -- and they have no idea why anyone would murder Zavala.
Zavala grew up in Santa Cruz and liked to skateboard and draw. Hernandez said Zavala would also entertain her younger brother and other children by drawing cartoon characters. He is survived by one sister and two brothers.
Merced police gave no new details Wednesday about the killing. No one is in custody.
Police responded to the scene at 7:40 p.m. Monday after a witness found Zavala leaning against a pole in the 2300 block of the K Street alleyway. Although the witness wasn't aware the victim had been stabbed, he knew something was wrong and called law enforcement, according to Lt. Andre Matthews, Merced police spokesman.
Zavala was conscious and was able to speak with officers after they arrived. He was taken to a Modesto hospital but later died.
Anyone with information should call Lt. Jim Gurden at (209) 384-4186 or Detective John Fister (209) 385-4755. You can also call the department's automated tip line at (209) 385-4725. Calls are kept confidential and you can remain anonymous.
Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.