William “Will” Barton, 20, was walking in the 1400 block of Upas Street on the edge of Balboa Park at 2:34 a.m. after finishing his shift at a Fifth Avenue restaurant, headed toward his father’s home.
It was then that 40-year-old Philip Martin Hernandez, a former Cal Fire firefighter wanted in Riverside County on charges of having sex with a minor, was sitting in a car nearby, arguing with his now-18-year-old girlfriend, Cindy Alta-mirano Garcia. She is the subject of the charges in a relationship that reportedly began at a National City park when she was 16.
Hernandez, whose life was rapidly unraveling, had reportedly come to San Diego to kill a police officer who arrested him Oct. 19 on a sex-abuse warrant. Later, Hernandez reportedly planned to kidnap an unknown person and burn them to death.
As Barton walked home in the darkness, Hernandez mistook him for a police officer who arrested him in Blythe in May when Garcia reported his possessive behavior and her desire to leave.
Hernandez apparently jumped from the car, ran toward Barton and shot him three times in the head, leaving him in the street to be found later by police.
In other crimes linked to the couple’s crime spree, Hernandez and Garcia wore either jackets or vests with the word “POLICE” on them.
The pair was believed to have robbed and shot an off-duty San Diego police officer at an Escondido ATM hours before the Oct. 29 shooting of Barton. The officer suffered a grazing head wound and has been released from the hospital.
After the Barton shooting, the couple is believed to have carjacked a man at the College Grove Shopping Center, robbed several pedestrians, burned three vehicles used during the crimes, and bought a white cargo van in Spring Valley they found on Craigslist.
A multi-agency task force of officers, arson investigators and forensic technicians worked around the clock to identify the gunman.
By Oct. 30, the day after the Barton shooting, Hernandez had been identified as the suspect and police raided his mother’s Escondido apartment where he had been living.
Patrol officers throughout the county were provided with descriptions of Hernandez and Garcia and the van’s license-plate number.
The van was spotted outside downtown police headquarters at about
9:30 p.m. on Oct. 31, but peeled away when Hernandez learned they had been spotted.
Ninety minutes later, a patrol officer noticed the van in the Barrio Logan area and his call for backup brought a quick response. However, before enough officers arrived to conduct a felony traffic stop, Hernandez began swerving wildly before suddenly pulling over on National Avenue.
Hernandez jumped from the van with what appeared to be a high-powered rifle and began firing on three officers. The officers returned fire, killing Hernandez, who was wearing a bulletproof vest. Garcia surrendered and was taken into custody and has pleaded not guilty to numerous charges.
Community rallies to aid ex-student
The senseless shooting of 20-year-old William “Will” Barton has rallied a group of local parents, classmates and community members to as-sist the stunned family, which remains at the hospital bedside of the 20-year-old, hopeful for signs of progress after the savage, life-threatening assault on Oct. 29.
Far from out of the woods, Barton was moved out of the intensive care unit on Nov. 12 after showing signs of improvement.
A tidal wave of community support is building for the 2010 graduate of Point Loma High School, washing through the communities of Point Loma, Ocean Beach and Mission Hills, where Barton lived as a youngster.
Members of the Point Loma High community and many alumni did not learn of the crime until Nov. 7 because Barton’s family kept his name out of local media reports in the days following the attack.
Medical bills are likely to reach stratospheric heights as medical teams work to produce small daily improvements in Barton’s condition, and Barton will require extensive long-term care, according to family members.
“No one ever thinks they are going to need this kind of help,” said Point Loma resident Rhonda Pitta, whose son, Alex, is a friend of Barton’s. “Will’s parents want everyone to know they are so grateful for the community’s help.”
Injuries like Barton’s are known to have a survival rate of about 1 percent. Barton may, however, be that one in a hundred, said Pitta.
“The doctors say it takes a fighter to overcome such grave injuries,” Pitta said, “and Will is such a fighter.”
Pitta has set up a fund for donations to the Barton family to help offset medical costs. These can be sent to the “Friends of Will Barton Fund” at Chase Bank, 1740 Rosecrans St., San Diego, 92106.
Also under way are plans for a benefit taco dinner, set for Thanksgiving weekend on Friday, Nov. 23 at
St. Agnes Parish Hall, 1145 Evergreen St. in Point Loma at 6:30 p.m.
“We thought this was a good time for the dinner, since many of Will’s friends are going to college in different states and countries and many will be home then. They’ll have a chance to talk about what happened and support each other,” Pitta said.
The cost is $10, and Pitta said every cent will go toward Barton’s medical care.
“We know Hodad’s is supplying all of the meat needed,” Pitta said, “and we’re working on getting rice, beans and everything else donated as well.”
The cooking and preparation will be done by volunteers, including a restaurant chef who has asked to participate, said Pitta.
Needed most by organizers are items for a silent auction and a possible raffle.
Already promised is Charger player memorabilia. Other local sports teams and businesses are being approached, but Pitta also is asking individuals to donate services and items, large gift certificates, stays in vacation properties, recreational packages and other items.
“There are so many people helping,” Pitta said.
Artwork by Barton and his artist parents also will be auctioned.
Community members with auction or raffle donations are asked to contact Pitta at [email protected]
Jamie Rosen has been contacting Mission Hills and Hillcrest businesses like Barton’s employer for future events, while Erika Gemmill, a classmate of Barton’s, has also been busy lining up a surfboard and other items for the auction.
Another major fundraiser in January is now in the planning stage.