Investigators are searching for the gunman responsible for the shooting death of a beloved community leader in South Los Angeles.
His family and friends are heartbroken. He was taken by the very violence he fought so hard against.
Family and friends say the Westmont community will never be the same without Craig Batiste.
The 54-year-old former gang member turned neighborhood peacemaker was gunned down Wednesday morning near West 111th and South Hobart, not far from where he grew up.
Skipp Townsend is a friend and fellow gang interventionist. He says everyone knew Batiste by his nickname “Big,” not for his size, but for what the 54-year-old did for his community.
“He was holding this area together. He is a peacekeeper, he is the interventionist that would be out here if this was someone else and make sure these young guys don’t go anywhere or hurt anybody,” Townsend said.
Batiste maintained many of the schools in his neighborhood and was a part of LA’s Safe Passage Program, walking children to and from school, steering them away from trouble.
“He was little in stature but big in heart... and also was soft as a teddy bear,” he added.
LA City Attorney Mike Feuer, saying in part, “gun violence knows no boundaries. We will remember Craig as a community leader and honor his memory by working to end the scourge of gang and gun violence.”
“I’ve been with him when the principal called and told him -- hey there’s this going on with a certain child -- he’d be like, let me have them,” a childhood friend, Christopher Godbolt, said.
Wednesday morning, just before nine, investigators say a passenger in a dark-colored sedan opened fire on Batiste as he ran away. They don’t yet have a motive.
“In my belief, whoever did this couldn’t have known who he was because I don’t believe anyone who knows that he was the fabric of this community -- that he was the one holding it together -- would ever hurt a peacemaker,” Townsend said.