Jose Zeron was not a gang member, but the man he was with the morning he was shot and killed is – and police believe the killer killed the wrong person.
"He wasn't perfect but he was the perfect son for me," said Carmen Zeron of her 37-year-old son they called "Joe." Carmen said Joe was friends with every person he met and often did charitable things for strangers.
"My brother was just friends with everybody, it did not matter," his sister Karla said of her brother, "an example of love."
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But Joe's charity work ended the morning of May 14 in North Hills. LAPD Detectives said he and a friend had just purchased snacks at the 7-11 on Nordoff Street just east of the 405 freeway, when a dark-colored, late model Chrysler 200 slowed down just enough to fire two shots. They said Joe ducked when he heard the first, causing himself to get hit when the second bullet flew.
"Something woke me up," Carmen recalls of that morning, "I don't know what, how, at 5:05 in the morning." She said she noticed Joe had left his cell phone and wallet in their apartment, but that he was nowhere to be found.
When she called his siblings, none of them had heard from him and it took 24 hours before they would find out what happened. Carmen said the family got together the following day and went through the last phone calls on Joe's phone until someone answered with the news they dreaded.
"I'm really sorry to tell you this," Carmen remembers the voice saying, "but your son was murdered yesterday morning."
LAPD Valley Homicide Detectives have released portions of surveillance video obtained since the shooting that shows Joe and his friend walking eastbound on Nordoff, less than a block from that 7-11. The video shows the car pull up and slow down, the tail lights bright from the brakes, and then the two men fall to the ground. Joe's friend was uninjured, but Joe did not survive.
LAPD Det. Edward Yates said they have very few witnesses who have come forward from that morning.
"We're looking for that one eyewitness that can identify that car or knows anyone involved in that shooting," he said. "Some people who are not involved in the gang life, get caught up in the gang life and it's not their fault."
For Carmen, she said she wakes up crying about her son, the third of four siblings.
"It hurts me on my flesh right now, I miss him," she said. But for the shooter, the family offers a small token of their faith, offering to forgive them if they come forward.
"He needs help," Carmen said, questioning why the shooter may have become in gang life to begin with. "And if there is anything I can do to help him, get out of that, I'm there."
It's the consolation they said they offer because it's the same thing they believe Joe would have done.
LAPD Valley Homicide Detectives said anyone with information is asked to contact them at 818-374-1948. Callers can remain anonymous.