Emmanuel Gomez’s sister described him as “a protector, resilient, honest, brave.”
As a big brother to his two sisters, father to three children, godfather to nieces and a nephew, he was a “great mentor” who “taught by example,” said sister Estela Gomez.
So it wasn’t out of character for Emmanuel to get involved when he saw people breaking into his neighbor’s vehicle early Wednesday morning.
Emmanuel, a farm labor contractor like his father, was leaving for work around 4:30 a.m. when he saw the burglars and called 911.
The 37-year-old followed the suspects in his truck as they ran away. One of the suspects fired at Emmanuel, hitting him at least once, according to Modesto police. As a result, Gomez crashed into a tree in a nearby orchard west of Monticello Lane and later died.
Detectives arrested 20-year-old Deshawn Austin on suspicion of murder and two 16-year-old boys on suspicion of burglary.
“That man, he took our brother away, he took a good guy, he wasn’t doing anything. They were doing something wrong,” Estela said Thursday at the south Modesto home that she, Emmanuel and youngest sister Erika Gomez grew up in.
Estela pointed to the houses of neighbors they played with as children and to the street in front of their home where Emmanuel taught her to ride a bike. Erika said her brother gave the “best hugs.” He also was a prankster who once convinced her as a child that putting lemons on cuts would help them heal. He watched her first scary movie with her, “Freddy vs. Jason.”
Emmanuel graduated from Downey High School and attended Modesto Junior College.
As an adult, the sisters said their brother worked hard for his family and was a committed father to his daughter, 16, and sons, 12 and 5.
“He didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke, he didn’t need any of that to have a good time, but he didn’t judge you if you did,” Estela said.
The sisters said Emmanuel liked to take his kids to water parks, take them out for pizza and play action figures with them.
Emmanuel’s father, Justino Gomez, is trying to come to terms with his grief. When talking about his son on Wednesday, he broke down in tears. “I am not as strong as I thought,” he said repeatedly.
The father and son worked alongside each other nearly every day. On Wednesday, they were scheduled to work with a crew picking cherries. When Emmanuel didn’t show or answer his phone, Justino drove to his son’s home. There were police all over the neighborhood and one of them told Justino his son was at a hospital, where he ultimately succumbed to his injuries.
“I hope (people) pray for us; that’s all I ask,” Justino said.
Estela said she plans to attend the court hearings for the man accused of killing her brother.
“(Emmanuel) called 911, so I am assuming he felt that the people doing something wrong needed to be caught,” Estela said. “So I just want to see it through.”
Austin was charged Friday with first-degree murder with an enhancement that he personally used a firearm, shooting at an occupied vehicle and burglary. He also is accused of aggravating circumstances that he “engaged in violent conduct which indicated a serious danger to society” and that his “prior performance on probation or parole was unsatisfactory.”
During an arraignment Friday afternoon, he pleaded not guilty to the charges and denied the enhancements. Austin’s bail was set at $2 million and he was scheduled to return to court July 14.