Atwater police and family seek clues to puzzling murder

ATWATER — Eight seconds.

That's all it took to completely change Joanna Ortiz's life.

On a cold December night, a gunman came up to Ortiz's husband, David, who was waiting for an order at Foster's Freeze in Atwater.

The gunman aimed at 33-year-old Ortiz and shot the Atwater resident in the head. He continued firing as Ortiz hit the ground.

Then the gunman got in a car and drove away. He had just shattered the life Joanna and David had built for themselves over the past 11 years.

On Tuesday, about 7:30 p.m., David Ortiz had taken some videos back to a store in Atwater. Before he left home, he asked his wife if she wanted anything. She said yes, a hot fudge sundae.

David laughed and told his wife it was too cold for a sundae. But he stopped at Foster's Freeze on Winton Way in Atwater to get that sundae for his wife.

He was shot about 8 p.m.

By 9 p.m. Joanna Ortiz knew something was wrong. He should've been back. He wasn't the kind of guy who stayed out.

"He didn't come home," Joanna Ortiz said. "I got the kids out of bed and went looking for him."

The married couple have three girls: Callie, 12, Alize, 11, and Deja, 8. With the girls in the car, Joanna searched for her husband.

She found his car at Foster's Freeze. Atwater Police Department cars were everywhere, emergency lights flashing blue and red. She saw her husband's car door open, and she began praying.

"I just kept saying, 'Jesus, please don't do this to me. Please don't do this to me,' " Joanna recalled.

The officers told Joanna that her husband had been shot, that he had been taken to a local hospital.

"It was the most awful thing that could ever happen," Joanna said. "He was my best friend, my soul mate, my everything."

David Ortiz was a family man. His father is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer treatment, and David called his father every day to see how he was doing. "He was always calling his nieces, just to say hi," his wife said.

David worked at Sundown RV Parts and Service in Atwater, where his boss is grieving, along with a lot of other people.

Juan Garcia said Ortiz was always on top of his duties, always trying to learn more.

"If you needed anything done, call him," said Garcia, owner of Sundown. "He was a good worker — he worked so hard."

But it wasn't just hard work that Garcia and others liked about Ortiz. He was just a downright nice man.

"Who could be against that guy?" Garcia asked. "He was the best person. He would do anything for anybody. Why would anybody do this to him? I can't understand."

Joanna Ortiz is going through the hardest time she's faced. But she has spoken out for one reason: To find who did this to her husband.

"There are people who were at Foster's Freeze who maybe saw something," she explained. "They need to come forward and tell the police what they saw."

Atwater Police Detective Armando Echevarria said that despite the fact the murder is already days old, the department is still in the initial process of locating and interviewing witnesses.

There's a surveillance tape that caught Ortiz's last moments. But the murder took place very quickly, and the tape isn't of good quality.

Family of witnesses sought

What the police do know is this: Ortiz was standing outside Foster's Freeze, waiting for his order. A lone gunman came up to him and fired several shots. The gunman then left the scene in a red subcompact car and sped away on Mitchell Road.

As far as witnesses go, Echevarria agrees with Ortiz. There are still people who may have seen the murder who haven't come forward.

"Obviously, I can understand how people feel witnessing something like this," the detective said. "But we know there was a family that left just seconds after the shooting. They could maybe help our investigation."

If people talk to the police about what they saw, Echevarria said, it will all be confidential.

"We would love to talk to eyewitnesses," Echevarria said.

The Atwater Police Department has done background checks on David Ortiz, and Echevarria said there's no hint of any type of gang activity.

"The victim was totally unaware of what happened to him," Echevarria said.

Joanna said her husband had never been involved in any gang behavior. She insists that those who blame the murder on that are wrong.

"People need to come forward," she said. "Imagine hugging someone, and smelling them — and then closing your eyes and they are gone. Imagine listening to your children crying themselves to sleep every night. I never want anything like this to happen to anyone else. We have to stop these people."

Joanna has no idea why her husband was targeted.

"Maybe it was a gang initiation thing," she said. "We need to stop this so no one else — no one else's child — will have to live in fear."

Eight seconds.

And now David Ortiz's family must live without him for the rest of their lives.